Harvard/Yale Cantata, September 9, 2021
I went to the sixth edition of the Harvard Yale Cantata on September 9th. This is an annual show put together by my friend Tom Toce, always held at 54 Below, always a scream. He modeled it after the Harvard-Yale Regatta, an annual boat race I know from *The Social Network.* Tom sets up the cantata with a number of "heats," each of which features a song written by a Harvard grad performed by a Harvard grad pitted against a song by a Yale grad sung by a Yale grad. The songs and performances are evaluated by three impartial judges.
The show opened, as it always does, with Tom singing an original song about the show itself, "Welcome to the Harvard-Yale Cantata." This was a collaboration between him (Yale) and Dylan MarcAurele (Harvard). Tom sang it with moxie and good cheer.
Yale: "The Gun Song" by Scott Etan Feiner, performed by him. It had a strong structure and expert storytelling. He wrote himself a particularly flashy piano part.
Harvard: "Luv Shmuv" by (?) Alpher and Jennie Litt, sung by Eric Cheng. He sang it with verve but I wasn't impressed with the song, it didn't feel so original and it went on a little too long.
Harvard: "So Much Better" by Neil Benjamin and Laurence O'Keefe, sung by Laura Sky Herman. This was a song from *Legally Blonde.* Herman had recently taken a leave from her degree program to spend a year touring with *Hello, Dolly!* Not a bad gig, right? Her performance was a little too strident for my taste but she certainly knew what she was doing.
Yale: "Through the Mountain" by Adam Guettel, sung by Zina Ellis. This was a song from *Floyd Collins.* Ellis had just done a tour as the Fairy Godmother in *Cinderella!* I enjoyed her performance a lot, she was sincere, confident, special. It was more about the song and less about the singer. She did quite a lot of humming, the prettiest singing of the night.
Yale: "Grounded" by Julian Hornik, sung by Alaina Anderson. Both songs in this heat were written by 26-year-olds! Ms. Anderson is about to go on tour with *Dear Evan Hansen.* She did a good job with the song, she made strong choices and stuck with them. The song had a surprising structure.
Harvard: "Stand Up" by Cynthia Erivo and Joshua Brian Campbell, sung by Ashley LaLonde with Eric Cheng, Richard Shore, and Michael Wingate singing backup. This was the only contemporary song I had heard before - - it was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, it was written for the movie *Harriet.* I hardly wrote anything in my notes about the performance, it was so captivating.
Harvard: "Welcome Back, New York" by Mark Sonnenblick, sung by Sam Bolen. A show stopper in the Liza vein, such a thrill. A hilarious and crass song about the charms of New York City: the stench of urine in the street, etc. At first I thought Bolen's black lace number was a little black dress but on closer inspection it appeared to be a romper!
Here's Bolen singing "I Used To Think" at the 2016 Harvard/Yale Cantata:
Yale: "February 31" by John Forster, performed by Forster. He sang, played the guitar, and played the harmonica. The song was a clever send-up of a Bob Dylan-style song, sung as Bob Dylan. This song really had me listening hard, I wanted to savor every word. Well worth the effort, one of the highlights of the evening.
A Harvard/Yale collaboration, between Forster (who did the preceding Dylan parody), host Tom Toce, and a third person by the name of Rollins. The song was called "Boo the F-ck Hoo." Notice how I converted the title to a PG rating for those delicate hothouse flowers among you. This song was the highlight of the whole show, it was genius and a total scream. It's about a man giving advice to his small son. If I may paraphrase: you're going to learn things in school you think are useless. Your brother is going to be mean to you. I'm going to make you do things you think are unjust. Boo the F-ck Hoo. In each verse the son grows up and learns this Boo the F-ck Hoo lesson on a deeper level, in a new context. Forster sang the song from the piano, accompanying himself, and my favorite moment was the instrumental break, which had the left hand staying in the home key but the right hand playing in a completely unrelated key. Forster looked at his hand as if to say, "What the hell are you doing?" This polytonality moment had me laughing like there was no tomorrow.
FIFTH AND FINAL HEAT
Harvard: "Boby and Soul" by Harvard grad Johnny Green (co-written with Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton), sung by Debbie Deane. Such a great song but maybe not best served by her performance. Her singing was husky yet kittenish and she inserted abrupt halts here and there which were not meaningful.
Yale: "Anything Goes" by Cole Porter, sung by Xavier Washington. Deliciously virtuosic singing, melismas right out of the Patti LaBelle tradition. The audience went crazy for him.
The final score: a decisive win for Yale, 26.5 points vs Harvard's 18.5. I don't want to rub salt in the wound but the previous Harvard/Yale Cantata (2019, thank you, pandemic) was the only year that Harvard has won...