On Saturday night, 131 alumni and current members of the Stanford Mendicants performed at the group’s 50th anniversary concert at the Bing Concert Hall. They performed in groups divided by decades before they all gathered to sing their classic song “Delia” and the “Stanford Hymn” on stage.
The Stanford Mendicants were Stanford’s first a capella group, founded in 1963 by Hank Adams ‘64, a Yale transfer student. Founded with the express purpose of serenading and subsequently wooing Stanford women, the Mendicants’ first performance was in Branner Hall, which at the time was an all-female dormitory.
The a cappella group has changed quite a bit since then, both in their performance style and performance attire. The signature red jacket, white dress-shirt and stone-colored pants that the Mendicants currently wear have been around for only the past six years.
“For a while we had baseball jerseys, for 10 years or so,” said Nicholas Moores ‘15, former president of the Mendicants. “There was a year where we had jeans, a red shirt and khaki jacket.”
Ephraim Swanson-Dusenbury ‘92, who sang with the Mendicants from 1990-92 and whose name is hidden in the bass line of the Mendicants’ rearrangement of the song “Runaround Sue,” said that the current Mendicants’ incarnation is much more put together than what he recalls.
“These guys are a lot more polished even at an early stage, even more than we were,” Swanson-Dusenbury said. “The way they choreograph, they really know about having stage presence. For us it was always an afterthought.”
When Swanson-Dusenbury was a freshman, the Mendicants celebrated their 25th year anniversary. He described this year’s reunion as “the circle of life” now that 25 more years has passed since.
“This is the kind of experience you don’t have a lot,” Swanson-Dusenbury said. “Your peers span a large age range. It’s kind of like having snapshots of yourself at different ages. You see all these future selves that you might grow into.”
Ira Fischler M.A. ‘70 Ph.D. ‘73 was one of the few singers who joined the Mendicants as a graduate student, travelling all the way from Gainesville, Fla., to join Saturday’s celebration.
“The singers still seem stronger and younger and more talented, but the core of the group and ideas and camaraderie is still there,” Fischler said.
Fischler recalled some of his favorite memories with the Mendicants, including concerts in Memorial Church and a very successful Christmas concert.
“We didn’t do any traveling back in those days,” Fischler said. “The singing was very local, from here up to San Francisco. I remember the rehearsals and recording sessions and playing golf at the Stanford course with two of the other Mendicants I was singing with.
“One of them also went to my wedding,” he added.
Some of the songs that Fischler recalls from the ‘70s includes “Coney Island Washboard” and “Bye Bye Blues,” in which Fischler had a solo and scat piece.
“[We sung] in stairwells or under arches, late at night when we had no business being awake and not studying,” Swanson-Dusenbery said. “Just singing with the guys like me who didn’t know when it was time to quit and go home, and had almost an obsession with singing.”
The classic songs, such as “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Runaround Sue,” were first sung during the ‘90s. According to Swanson-Dusenbery, many of the arrangements sung by the Mendicants those years were written by former musical director John Livingston ‘93.
“With our group, what I’m proud of was that we brought back some arrangements from the past. We honored the past traditions and also contributed to the future groups,” Swanson-Dusenbery said. “And coming back to see people you actually sang with. That’s one of the deepest bonds—it’s almost a kind of brotherhood. We would tend to call ourselves like a fraternity.”
The 15 members of the current Mendicants also had an inspiring experience seeing the history of their group right before them.
“Last year when I was a freshman, I didn’t feel much of the alumni connection,” said Ben Isaacs ‘16, current president of the Mendicants.
“Just being here today sort of made me realize how cool it is to be part of this. It’s like talking to Stanford alumni, but we all share a lot more things in common. It’s really neat to be able to relate to all these different people,” Issacs added.
Regardless of its various incarnations over the years, the Stanford Mendicants has maintained its core ideals.
“What has always been our common thread and what will continue to be our common thread is that we don’t burn so hard on the music that we defer to have fun,” Moores said. “The fact that we have fun adds a dimension to the performance.”
Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.