Colgate 13: On a High Note

The Colgate 13 is an elite, highly selective all-male a cappella group. Founded 80 years ago, it is Colgate’s oldest a cappella group and the second oldest collegiate a cappella group in the U.S. Joining the 13 is no small commitment; the group practices three times a week for two-hour sessions that often run long, and there are countless performances throughout the year.

The 13 sends groups of thirteen men to perform at every concert, but the team currently has 21 members. While there is no cap on their total membership, the selection process is rigorous. There is a preliminary round where all applicants sing a song and do other vocal exercises. Next comes the “vibe check.” For call-backs, applicants are asked to tell a joke or a funny story so the 13 can get a feel for their energy and stage presence. Of the forty people who came to audition this year, only seven were selected for membership.

“The people who really want to do it are the ones who show up. In its own way, that’s the first audition,” said senior Paul Criscione, the 13’s social media manager.

From their iconic maroon blazers to their campus-famous custom van — nicknamed “the grunt” — the 13 are a group built on tradition. Songs like Grand Night, 1819 and Danny Boy have been passed down for almost a generation, and the 13 end every concert with the song “Goodbye My Coney Island Baby.” Every year seniors give new members a nickname with a secret meaning, revealed only upon graduation. Wherever the group goes, they always find time to perform for and meet with alumni, who they call “crust.”

Alumni relationships are arguably the 13’s most important tradition. At a school renowned for its extensive alumni network, the 13’s alumni stand out as exceptionally connected, strong, supportive and dedicated to maintaining the Colgate 13 experience. They’ve endowed scholarships, preserved historic songs and four hundred alumni from as far back as the 1950s came to campus for the 13’s 80th reunion last summer. The 13’s vehicles and most of their trips are paid for through an alumni fund created three decades ago.

“There’s just a strength of camaraderie and just like shared experience between alumni and current members, because we’ve all gone through the same thing and we all love singing […] we’re just a group of guys who love to sing,” Pierce Haley, senior and leader of the group, said. 

The 13 are wildly successful in their industry. Their bread and butter are concerts with other a cappella groups, weddings, alumni club gigs and retirement communities, but that only scratches the surface. The 13 have opened for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and sang at Superbowl XIII, the World Series and Michael Jordan’s last game in Chicago. Just this past month they sang live on a D.C. Morning Show. They do three trips a semester to cities around the East Coast, and go on “Jantour” every January singing across the country. This upcoming January, they plan on hitting Chicago, Jackson Hole, San Francisco, Palm Desert, Dallas and Nashville. Sophomore Steven Torre will serve as the business manager for the 13 this upcoming spring, and already has public appearances and concerts lined up for next semester following the winter tour.

All that said, what defines the 13 is not tradition or success or prestige. It’s the rich variety of their members and their warm camaraderie that makes the 13 stand out. The 13 describe themselves as open-minded and inclusive, always looking for different kinds of people to join. Everyone from track stars to fraternity presidents to CLs make up the 13’s past and current members. 

“It’s definitely a group of people who probably otherwise would never know each other,” Torre said.

Criscione also praised the group’s diversity.

“We’re all over the place in terms of just different backgrounds, different personalities, other involvements […] I honestly think that’s what makes the group so special,” he said.

The class of 2022 fought to keep that legacy alive. Haley and the other current seniors worked hard to keep the 13 up-and-running during the pandemic, a time when singing together was strictly banned. It was impossible to hold practices and activities. Songs and traditions were almost lost, but the seniors’ efforts paid off: the 13 have rebuilt and are now stronger than ever. 

To Criscione, this period of rebuilding was certainly worth the wait. 

“Out of all the experiences I’ve had at Colgate, the 13 is the one thing I know for a fact I’m gonna look back on and say was an amazing experience because it’s a group of people that are from all over the place, and we come together with this common passion of singing and performing […] there’s something about the Colgate 13 that’s such a safe space for every single person that joins the group,” Criscione said.