As 2020 came to a close, many Princeton students were enjoying a well-deserved break while others, like the all-male a cappella group the Tigertones, were making their way out of the virtual Princeton bubble and into the public eye. Performing on the popular morning talk show Good Morning America (GMA), the Tones were broadcast into the homes of millions of Americans on Christmas morning around 7:30 a.m. EST.
The Tones’ charming and festive rendition of “Little Saint Nick,” an arrangement that has been sung in the group for several decades, was called “beautiful” by GMA anchor Robin Roberts. The performance featured the group in individual Zoom boxes with wintry backgrounds and Christmas-themed sweaters and costumes. It accompanied uplifting stories of celebrity charity, cutesy tutorials for last minute gifts, and a multicolored substance dubbed “reindeer toothpaste.”
The group was asked to submit two pieces to GMA producers. While the group’s second piece — an equally remarkable rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” arranged by Logan Emmert ’24 (currently on a gap year) — was not featured in its entirety on the GMA episode, it did appear on the GMA Times Square jumbotron as a teaser and can be found on the group’s YouTube channel.
Members of the group praised Emmert for his arrangement. “It’s pretty incredible. It’s one of the best Tones arrangements,” said Harry Bound ’21, who was music director as the group was preparing for the performance. The Tones have since elected Emmert as their new music director.
The Tones came to the attention of GMA producers in part due to the group’s alumni connections. GMA producer Pete Austin ’93, excited by the idea of getting talented tigers on-air, contacted his old friend, former Tones member Raoul Bhavnani ’93. From there, Bhavnani reached out to the Tones by email.
“I think it’s absurd and wonderful that this is the type of opportunity that you get at Princeton and with Princeton connections,” said Emmert.
While the final product appeared polished and seamless, Fergus “Gus” Binnie ’21, the president of the group in the fall semester, confessed his initial doubts in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. Binnie was first contacted by a GMA content producer in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
“And the due date was the day before Dean’s Date [Dec. 7]. It was, you know, not going to be the easiest thing,” said Binnie.
The group’s officers liaised with a sound engineer while members began experimenting with recording software and learning their newest piece. To complete the video in time, the group had to record throughout Thanksgiving break, and the video had to be cut together during reading period.
“It’s really difficult because we all have different schedules, we all have different Dean’s Date things... There was no guarantee going in that this was going to work,” said Binnie. “It was sort of a weird moment when I said, ‘Okay we’re gonna do this, it’s gonna happen.’”
Alex Deland ’21 took point on video production for the performance, which necessitated completing all of his Dean’s Date assignments a week early.
“A huge amount of the credit goes to Alex, particularly in the last few days,” said Bound.
With the opportunity to perform on GMA, the Tones were drawn out of a slower semester and thrown back into the world of performance.
During the fully virtual semester, the group focused on maintaining community and supporting one another. As they move forward into a hybrid semester, members are looking to continue music making if possible.
“The Tones are always great at making the best of a difficult situation,” said Binnie. “We are absolutely well versed at doing things in adversity and trying to figure it out.”
“We are trying to figure out how to practice so we don’t lose those musical qualities that make the Tones so great,” said Mark Dodici ’22, the newly-elected president of the Tones. “So [we’re] just trying to keep the group up, keep morale up, keep interest up, and keep that community and musical standard that we have.”
Dodici is a Head Multimedia Editor for the ‘Prince.’
Emmert reflected on the performance and the group as it moves forward in the pandemic: “It’s always been about more than the music. But with this opportunity, we were also able to insert the music back into it.”