Crystal Lake native brings Yale University’s a cappella group to area

Aidan O'Connor sings with The Spizzwinks(?) at their annual on-campus jamboree.
Aidan O'Connor sings with The Spizzwinks(?) at their annual on-campus jamboree.

The Spizzwinks(?) are coming! This is not cause for alarm. A Spizzwink is an insect that was actually just a hallucination of an Iowa postmaster during the Great Iowa Corn Blight in 1906. It also is the namesake of Yale University’s underclassmen a cappella group, second oldest in the world to Yale’s senior a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs.

Twenty-year-old Spizzwinks(?) member Aidan O’Connor is a junior at Yale University studying ethics, politics and economics. The Crystal Lake native is bringing his 15 fellow Yale Spizzwinks(?) back to his hometown to perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at Willow Crystal Lake.

“Being a busy student at Yale and traveling eight weeks per year on our breaks to perform, I rarely get back to Crystal Lake,” O’Connor said. “Not only is it just exciting to go home for a little while, it will be a great experience bringing the group home to see where I grew up; bringing them to Country Donuts and Julie Ann’s [Frozen Custard]. These are my best friends and my brothers in college, and getting to share the music we make in the community that I’m from, alongside the PR choir that I sang with for three years, is very special.”

Prairie Ridge choral director David Jensen has been shaping young voices at the high school for the past 21 years. To this day, he said O’Connor still stands out as one of his most prized members.

“Aidan was a pretty singular kid. He was special from day one,” Jensen said. “He had a pretty exceptional set of skills. He was just one of those kids, you would ask him to do something and he would come back the next day and he wouldn’t have just done it, he went beyond the ask and no one was annoyed by it because he was so sincere in what he did. Everyone respected him. By the end of his sophomore year, he was a leader. That’s the kind of kid we’re talking about; very unique.”

It is a promise made by every Spizzwinks(?) member that they will travel with the group and perform in their hometown as well as visit all six continents. The group acts as cultural ambassadors, performing with other groups and universities to promote a love for music, taking O’Connor from the Yale grounds to places such as Cape Town, South Africa, and Myanmar in Asia.

“We will have traditional gigs and then we’ll do joint concerts and performances,” O’Connor said. “We really focus on international outreach and we want to work with local charities to spread the good word about music and get kids involved musically.”

O’Connor said he is thankful for the opportunity to be able to do this type of international travel but finds the member home visits to be more exciting to understand where his brothers in music came from.

“More important than the traveling is going to their hometown, staying with them, understanding who they are and how they became how they are,” O’Connor said. “I’m really excited to bring my group to my hometown and do the same thing so they have an even better understanding of who I am.”

O’Connor said he looks forward to coming home and believes his future path will lead him back to the area one day.

“At first, when I was leaving, I was so ready to leave and be done with it. Now, looking back and considering my future careers goals, I want to get back,” O’Connor said. “I love the community and the Midwest is a welcoming place. Even in a large small town like Crystal Lake, despite being so ready to leave, I really miss it.”

The 57-member Prairie Ridge a cappella choir will open for the Spizzwinks(?), under Jensen’s direction.

The group will perform four songs, including “All Good People” by folk rock band Delta Rae and “Seinn O,” a Gaelic piece meant to have the voice emulate bag pipes, a favorite of Prairie Ridge senior choir member Ally Akerberg.

“It’s a piece in Gaelic and it’s very upbeat,” Akerberg said. “The story is that in this Scottish civilization bag pipes were taken away so people started singing. There are lots of different rhythms and sections. It’s very high energy and really fun.”

Akerberg said that coming into high school, being in choir was non-negotiable and she plans to continue with singing when she heads to the University of Nebraska to study psychology next fall. Akerberg’s younger brother, Kevin, is a junior at Prairie Ridge and in the choir. She said she enjoys performing under Mr. Jensen who never makes for a dull moment.

“Mr. Jensen has such a creative mind for performing and strives to be excellent,” Akerberg said. “He says, ‘Anyone not familiar with the music will be impressed by you, but I want you to be a step above.’ He’s always taking things to the next level and making them insane and awesome.”

Jensen said that with a cappella, the level of expectation rises because everyone is expected to know their part as it is done in smaller groups or solo.

A cappella has the ability to give a different type of experience for the audience.

“We try to pick different styles of music for the concerts to give contrasting sounds so the oral experience is different for the kids and the audience,” Jensen said. “Folks tend to be bored by choral concerts and it’s fun for the kids to realize the voice is such a flexible instrument on its own.”

To buy tickets, visit Spizzwinks.ticketbud.com/cl.

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