HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
Din & Tonics All Shook Up On 20th Anniversary
By Eileen K. McCluskey
Special to the Gazette
"This is just the beginning," confidently intoned the Din & Tonics' debut album cover, suggesting that when they first came together in 1979, "Harvard's musical martini needed a new twist."
From its humble beginnings performing in Harvard's dining halls, this all-male a cappella group has grown in skill and renown, and now, after 20 mellifluous -- if wacky -- years, has completed five world tours, produced eight albums, performed thousands of concerts, and boasts 136 alumni.
"We try to include humor in a lot of what we do," says Din & Tonics' current president Jay Wiley '00. "It's part of the Din tradition, and that tradition is something we respect and enjoy a great deal."
Humor is, indeed, a big part of the Dins' persona, as their albums, CDs, and concerts attest. Din member and business manager Alexander Rose '00 explains, "In our Titonic video, we parody stuff like the opening scene of The Lion King. It gets a terrific response."
Not all is hilarity, though. The Dins' repertoire includes many great jazz standards and other serious songs. Their latest CD, Platonic, offers moving melodies such as "The Water Is Wide" and "Georgia on My Mind."
"Being in the Dins has let me be part of a disciplined and conscientious group of singers," says Jesse Billett '01, the group's musical director. "We tackle some of the most difficult music I've ever encountered, but the demanding rehearsal and performance schedule lets us develop a very polished sound."
Anyone who is interested can take a listen to Din sound clips on the Web at http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~dins.
Twenty years ago, when the Dins got their start in life, there was of course no Website and certainly there were no world tours. It was just Din founder Patrick Whelan '82 and 10 other guys with a penchant for singing, and an idea.
"Through my high school in Los Angeles, I had been involved in a group called the Christian Action Theater, which was a social action project," says Whelan, who now works at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as a senior fellow in rheumatology and a research associate at the AIDS Research Center. "We used to go to elementary schools and nursing homes to sing and entertain. I proposed a project like this for Harvard, and Phillips Brooks House welcomed us with open arms.
"The first time we appeared in public was in the Dunster House dining hall," Whelan continues. "We ran in there and sang the only three songs in our repertoire at the time. Everybody jumped up when we were done. They yelled and screamed and just loved it. But we had to race out at the end, because we had nothing left for an encore."
The Dins soon made the acquaintance of the outside world. "Our first public concert was at Yale in the fall of '79," says Whelan. "We performed with two other groups." One of these consisted of members of Yale's rugby team. "We provided a stark contrast to the somewhat sloshed ruggers. Despite our name, the program we sang was quite a bit more eclectic."
What's Din a Name?
They were not born the Din & Tonics, but Whelan knew from the start that he wanted a catchy name. "I came up with 40 or 50 ideas, which none of the Dins liked," he recounts. "Then one of the other original members, Keith Mankin ['82 -- now a pediatric orthopedist at MGH] came up with the Din & Tonics." The gang loved it immediately.
Din connotes "a sense of collegiate rabble and adventure," Whelan says. As for Tonic, "it is the root of the chord, the perfect unison, the place to which tonal music yearns to return."
Din & Tonics is also a versatile name, one replete with possibilities for puns. The Dins' album titles attest to their ability to realize this potential. Earlier titles have been Sublime, Tonic Boom, and In the Limelight. This year it's Platonic. The group's directors have nicknames that reflect their roles: the business manager is "Swizzle," for keeping things stirred up; the stage manager is "Lime," as in "-light"; and the president is dubbed "Ice," because he keeps things cool. The only officer without a spirits- related nickname is the music director who, in the tradition of most collegiate a cappella groups, is known simply as the "Pitch."
Saturday, March 20, marks the Din & Tonics' 20th anniversary, so naturally the current Dins and nearly 70 Din alumni will don dapper duds and deliver a divine performance. The show takes place at 8 p.m. in Sanders Theatre. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors, $10 general admission, and can be obtained through the Sanders Theatre box office, 496-2222, at Holyoke Center's BosTix at Harvard, or from any Din you may know (they also welcome queries from complete or partial strangers at email@example.com.
Excitement is high in the Dins' den. As David Kennedy '99, the group's Lime, says, "being in the Dins as we celebrate our 20th year is very exciting. It's satisfying to see that we're part of something that has brought laughter and music to so many people for so many years."
Copyright 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College