The Dartmouth Aires, the oldest collegiate a cappella group from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. They came in second place in the third season of the NBC musical competition The Sing-Off. A diverse group of college students, they sing a lot of different styles of music. Currently, much of their repertoire consists of popular songs from the 1980’s, 90’s, and 00’s, but they also perform more traditional Dartmouth songs. Most of the arrangements consist of a soloist, a dozen or so people singing background, and a vocal percussionist. The Dartmouth Aires perform a few times a term at Dartmouth, other colleges, and high school music festivals. Every spring they tour further afield, and this year made their first trip to China, with Daystar Academy their Beijing hosts.
Students at Daystar had the opportunity to interview the Dartmouth Aires. One of the Grade 4 classes had prepared a number of probing and fun questions for two members of the a capella group. David "Moco" Clossey is a third year student at Dartmouth who sings tenor, and freshman Olafur "Vigo" Olafsson sings baritone.
Do you like being a student at Dartmouth?
M – In the US you go to college for four years. I’m a New Yorker, in my third year at Dartmouth. It’s a small place and a lot quieter than New York, but I love that about it.
V – Dartmouth is a fun place to be and the college is great. It’s just so cold in winter!
What is the inspiration for your colorful and wacky jackets?
M – The jackets are passed down from Aires alumni, so some of them are decades old. Each is unique, and chosen to reflect the personality of the wearer. For most performances, we wear the same color trousers, our amazing jackets, and then any kind of shirt and tie we like!
Vigo, why do you wear your wooly hat all the time?
V – So I don’t have to brush my hair.
So why are you wearing a Viking helmet in your promotional picture?
V – I’m originally from Iceland, so the Viking hat reflects my Nordic heritage.
What do you study at Dartmouth?
M – I want to be a doctor, so Chemistry is my major and also Music.
V – I’m studying physics, math, and music. You don’t declare what you’re majoring in until second year, but I will major in Engineering Sciences.
How did you join the Dartmouth Aires?
M – You audition as a freshman. Once you’re selected, the Aires will sing “Somewhere” from Westside Story to you, as part of welcoming you to the group. The Aires will then sit on the steps of Dartmouth Hall and come up with a nickname for new recruits. All members have to have a nickname. It has to end in “o” and can only be two syllables. Your nickname should reflect you and your personality. There is a list of every Aires nickname ever made, and you can never use the same name twice.
V – Having just gone through the auditions, I can tell you it is tough! An 18 hour audition, straight through, with no sleep. I think I finished at 5am! As well as the nicknames, the Aires have a bit of their own language going on. “Errh” is one of our unique words, and we use it to greet each other. It’s kind of an Aires “hi”.
What has been your favorite performance?
M – “Oh What a Night” which I sang during my first freshman show.
V – One of our fellow Aires had invited his grandma to one of our shows. She was 90 years old and was so proud to be watching her son perform. That was one of my favorite performances, seeing how happy she was.
Both – Our Whitehouse performance, where we sang for President Obama and First Lady Michelle, that was pretty special. We had been asked to go again this spring, but decided to come to China instead.
Will you continue singing after you graduate?
V – I’ve been singing since I was really small. Singing has always been a big part of my life and who I am, so yes I will definitely continue.
M – Singing is a wonderful thing, and can so easily be done in addition to your more academic studies. Great fun, relaxing, it’s a way of expressing yourself.
What is your favorite song?
V – My favorite Aires song is my own solo song. My favorite song ever is the Rolling Stone’s “No Expectations".
M – Songs from Carmen. When I was in the children’s chorus of the New York Opera House, Carmen was my first performance.
What other hobbies do you have?
V – Rock climbing, shooting, skiing, and rugby. I’ve dislocated my shoulder seven times though, so I have to be a bit careful now.
M – Skiing, squash, and sailing.
Were you ever bullied at school?
M – No. I went through kindergarten, elementary, and high school with the same group of friends. So we had to make sure we all got on. We would disagree at times, and fall out occasionally, but there was never any bullying.
V – I traveled a lot as a child. At one stage I went to a Swiss school. When I first arrived, there was a boy who didn’t like me at all. In the end we tried to be grown up about it, sat down and talked about what the problem was. We managed to resolve it.
The kids had a great time firing their questions at both “Moco” and “Vigo”, and the guys had a real rapport with the students. Listening to the chatter amongst the students afterwards, it was obvious how inspired they were. One of the key messages they seemed to take from it, is that you can have a number of different interests. It doesn’t matter whether you’re studying science or math, you can still enjoy singing and music. Even if you’re not looking to have a career in music, whether it’s playing drums at the weekend, or singing in a group, it can be enjoyed just for fun.
Some of the Daystar Students were given the opportunity to perform with the Dartmouth Aires. So I sneaked a look at their audition, as they prepared for the afternoon’s school performance. The students listened intently as they were each allocated a role – some would be singing, others clapping, others dancing. The song they would be preforming was Pharrell William’s “Happy”. Some of the students were handed the famous Dartmouth Aires jackets to wear for the performance, you could see how proud they were as they put them on. Towards the end of the school day, all the students filed into the main hall, to see the Dartmouth Aires and their fellow students perform.
“Happy” was met with huge applause, and those that took part were grinning from ear to ear. The Dartmouth Aires continued their performance with "Shama Lama Ding Dong", a song that was performed by fictional band Otis Day and the Knights in the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House. It’s been performed and recorded by the Dartmouth Aires many times, because Dartmouth College is the school on which Animal House was modeled. The Proclaimer’s "I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)" and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” concluded the performance. It was a pleasure to meet this group of incredibly talented and very enthusiastic young men, and the students will have benefited hugely from this wonderful experience.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: courtesy of Dartmouth Aires, Sally Wilson