In the Land of Misfit Toys

In which vulgarity is used, kings are named, and much has been lost, but so much more has been gained.

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To my dear reader,

I would consider much of my life to have been wasted. If I were to point to two things that I am proud of, however, one would be my time in my a cappella group Underground Sound. The other would be my time in the Delta Epsilon colony of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Both are places full of unexpected individuals, unpredictably put together – lands of misfit toys, of which I am most certainly one.

When I first joined Underground Sound, it was a frail, unfocused group of poor musicians. Leadership was weak, rehearsals were ineffective and performances bland. For two semesters, I watched as the group floundered, losing members and failing to draw in audiences.

When I first joined Beta Theta Pi, there were no other members aside from the representative from the national fraternity there to recruit new members. Even as the chapter size slowly grew, the members were often apathetic and confused. For three semesters, I eyed the colony warily, and felt an emotional distance I was sure was insurmountable.

I became a musical co-director of Underground Sound in my sophomore year, and alongside my co-director Lisa Hawkins, I struggled, fought, cried and reshaped the group’s entire approach to a cappella across the past two years. In October of 2015, we were unexpectedly accepted to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, making us the first Puget Sound group to do so.

Underground Sound A Cappella, Dec. 9, 2016

Underground Sound A Cappella, Dec. 9, 2016

I attended a Beta leadership program called the Wooden Institute in my junior year, and began to take on leadership within the colony. Alongside my brothers, I wrestled, wept, celebrated and formed a community across the past year. As of January 26th, 2016, after extending bids to the few students we connected with, we have acquired only two new members – an unexpected and disappointingly low number.

The Delta Epsilon Colony of Beta Theta Pi, Jan. 26, 2016

The Delta Epsilon Colony of Beta Theta Pi, Jan. 26, 2016

Some would call my time with Underground Sound a success. They would be correct. It has taught me how to inspire a group, organize rehearsals and communicate clearly and efficiently. It is because of my time there that I am confident as a musical director and leader.

Some would call my time in Beta Theta Pi a failure. They could not be more incorrect. It has taught me how to trust others, give selflessly and uncover the unending depth of my own heart. It is because of my time there that I have ever felt a home at the University of Puget Sound.

Some people will look at Underground Sound and scoff at its earnest but musically imprecise performances. Some people will look at the Delta Epsilon colony and sneer at its small size and poor recruitment record. To those people, I have only one thing to say:

Fuck you.                                                             

Fuck your arrogance, fuck your derisiveness, and fuck your judgement. I have learned and loved more than you can possibly know. The land of misfit toys is my kingdom, and you’d better believe that I am the King.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Words Just Seem to Complicate It

In which Daniel says something nice about Greek Life (and Ariana Grande).

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NOTE: No opinion expressed here is meant to represent the University of Puget Sound, any of its faculty, students or staff, any of its internal organizations, Beta Theta Pi, any Greek house, or Greek Life as a whole. They are solely meant to express personal views that I hold which may change in the future.

To my dear reader,

Earlier this year, the student newspaper, The Trail, published an article about Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound (which can be read here: http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=12732). While the article was meant to be an impartial assessment of the state of fraternities and sororities at the school, I found the article to be somewhat pointed, implying that certain houses within our Greek system – if not the entire system – are flawed. The article left me with the impression that its writers were looking at Greek Life from a critical standpoint, but not necessarily with the intention of balancing out the examination of Greek Life’s cons with its pros.

I believe this to be understandable. Questioning our systems of social structure and power are crucial to improving them. But reading the article as a member of Greek Life (the fraternity Beta Theta Pi) made me realize that I have spent more time and energy examining Greek Life’s faults and discussing them with the wider community than appreciating its virtues and explaining them to the wider community. Of course there are many deep and enduring problems to correct, but time must be taken to say what is good alongside what it not. And because of the way the chips have fallen, and because the universe is sly and underhanded, there is no better way to do this than through Ariana Grande.

Allow me to explain myself:

During my first three semesters as a Beta – my entire sophomore year and the first semester as a junior – I was extremely skeptical. The concept of fraternities was one that left a sour taste in my mouth, and in some ways, still does. History classes have left me with the impression that groups of primarily white, primarily middle-to-upper-class, primarily heterosexual and almost certainly cis-gender men don’t tend to be terribly nice. Being the ones that most benefit from Western social structures, they can believe their value and worth to be intrinsic, and become very defensive if they feel that is being questioned. I don’t mean to attack people matching such a description; this is merely what history has suggested to me.

Beyond this idealistic skepticism, however, I held the more personal skepticism of the very concept of “community.” Why was I to give trust and respect to a group of people I barely knew out of principle? Weren’t they meant to be earned? I would never expect someone to trust or respect me until they got to know me better – and even then, maybe not.

It’s not that the members of Beta themselves did anything wrong in all that time. They were perfectly nice, well-meaning, intelligent men that wanted the best for the colony. But I’ve always been poor with interpersonal relationships, and I was growing weary of devoting so much time and energy to something in which I had so little investment.  By the end of December of 2014, I had my heart set on leaving.

But the universe, being sly and underhanded, prevented me from burning the bridge then and there because I had already signed up to attend the Wooden Institute, a leadership program run by the General Fraternity. Cursing myself for paying the registration fee, I begrudgingly attended in January of 2015. The universe, being sly and underhanded, brought me to the program so that it could change my life.

Those who desire may read about it here: http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/02/17/darling-were-a-nightmare-dressed-like-a-daydream/

Fast forward to the beginning of the spring semester and I told my brothers about Wooden. I had nothing but praise for it, but attending forced me to voice a complaint about out colony – namely, that I had grown closer to my brothers at Wooden in three days faster than my brothers at Puget Sound in three semesters. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought the rambunctious powerhouse of a person named Jake Ashby to me, insistent on rectifying the problem Wooden had illuminated to me. With all the subtlety of a wrecking ball, Jake Ashby barreled into my life and planted himself as a face both abrasively insistent and endlessly supportive.

But what does this have to do with Ariana Grande, you ask?

Patience, dear reader. All in good time…

A week or so into the new semester, I was hunting through some music that my sister had sent, which included several songs by that Princess of Pop Sopranos, Ms. Grande. I was not immediately thrilled by them, but was entertained enough that I considered finding more of her music. Oddly enough, I had spoken to another Beta, a fellow junior named Rae Hermosillo Torres, about Ms. Grande’s music and how much we indulgently enjoyed her, and so I stopped by his room one day and asked him if he could give me her two albums. Gracious man that he is he obliged with gusto. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought him too into my life as a face both unexpectedly warm and unceasingly friendly.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, right, Jake Ashby, left.

Ray Hermosillo Torres, left, Jake Ashby, right.

The remainder of the semester occurred as it did. There were trials plentiful, and enough tribulation to bury me alive. I drowned my sorrows in half-price Frappucinos during Starbucks’ Frappucino Happy Hour, and spent more nights without sleep than ever before. I fought valiantly to keep my grades high and less valiantly to take care of my health, and generally panicked about things that didn’t matter. But at the end of the day, the universe, being sly and underhanded, gave me two brilliant albums by Ariana Grande, a group of brothers at Puget Sound of which I’ve grown tremendously fond, and a blog on which I can write about it all. At the end of the day, I remember walking back to the Beta House after all my classes and rehearsals were done, exhausted and worn out, with Ariana Grande’s “Baby I” playing on my iPod, glad that I was heading home.

This is not all to criticize The Trail itself or to say that The Trail’s article is not valid. It is filled with completely accurate points about the state of Greek Life and ways in which it needs to improve and became more safe and inclusive. Sexual assault is absolutely a problem that must be solved; Greek Life must be made inclusive to minorities; the gender binary that Greek Life perpetuates must be faced. I don’t want to say whether it’s all pointless or good or bad. I don’t have enough experience, knowledge or wisdom to say if Greek Life is intrinsically problematic or not. Nor is it my place to say. But I don’t want to discuss only the faults. I don’t want to just say what’s wrong when good things are happening too.

All I’m trying to say is that maybe there might be something good about Greek Life. I’m trying to say that Beta is, in all truth, the most positive force that has yet occurred in my tiny life. But why should I say anything when Ariana Grande could do it for me?


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Tiny Victory

In which Daniel is his usual disastrous self, but with unexpectedly delightful results.

To my dear reader,

At the rick of exposing myself as the college student I truly am, I must say that there are few things more satisfying than completing a well-written paper. As a music major, my opportunities to write papers are relatively slim, and as someone without a passion for writing anything that is not either fictitious or humorous, this occurrence is even more rare. As of Monday, May 4th at 12:35 AM, however, I had the enormous pleasure of producing such a paper, completely from scratch and within the span of five hours.

I had no intention of pulling off such a rapid and ill-timed feat, but on the afternoon of the Friday previous, Dr. Geoffrey Block – my Broadway History professor – reminded the class to have our final essays, discussing a musical that was an adaptation of something else, turned in by Monday. Upon hearing this, I was struck by nausea and panic. How had I not noticed that the essay was due in three days? Why had I not written that optional rough draft? At what point was I to write this six-to-eight-page paper when I had to attend Relay for Life, a choir dress rehearsal, a friend’s recital, my a cappella group’s final get-together, a choir concert and my a cappella group’s recording session, all in the next two days?

The next forty-eight hours were marked by a quietly insistent undercurrent of terror. If I did not finish the paper, then I would be unable to pass the class, and if I wrote a terrible one, then I would get a poor grade – either way, damaging my GPA. I silently kicked myself for forgetting about the paper’s existence.

On Friday evening, I frantically helped my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, set up its tent and team for the university’s Relay for Life. After my a capella group performed at the event and attendees began to drift off, I walked the track of Baker Stadium and mulled over what on Earth my paper might be about. I had already decided to discuss the musical Ragtime and its original source, E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, but I had failed to read any literature on either work. As I passed the Luminaria after Luminaria, I consoled myself with the thought that I’d at least watched the musical and read the book before this.

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            The next morning, after attending a choir dress rehearsal on four hours of sleep, I took a fitful nap, arguing with myself on whether sleep or the essay was more important. On one hand, I knew that I have little capacity to function while tired, but on the other hand, I knew that my evening would begin with a friend’s junior recital at 5 PM, and would afterwards spiral into frivolity with my a cappella group when we went out for dinner, played laser tag and gave our last gifts to our senior members. Tomorrow, I told myself, I would simply not sleep. I would stay awake for as long as I needed to, and write until some semblance of a paper existed.

Sunday morning came, and I was terrified. I wandered through my last choral concert of the year in a daze, and afterwards went to my a cappella group’s recording session with knots in my stomach. By the session’s conclusion, 6 PM had arrived and I’d still not written a single word. Attempting to maintain my sanity, I gathered all the books I’d found on ragtime music, the score of the musical, E.L. Doctorow’s novel itself and interviews with the author, bringing them with me to one of the university’s coffee shops.

Ragtime

            It was over my first Mocha that I suddenly stumbled upon a thesis, and in a few short hours, I had spit out an essay with the following argument:

When it was first published in 1975, E.L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime was wildly successful both critically and commercially, praised for its delicate intricacy, mixing of myth and fact, and its level-headed presentation of sexuality and political ideologies. Despite garnering thirteen Tony nominations and winning four, the musical adaption by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens was not a commercial success and received mixed reviews, critics expressing distaste for the show’s ostentatious production and spectacle.

            I argue that the musical, as part of the legacy of megamusicals (musicals of enormous production scale with many actors involved, such as Phantom of the Opera), is actually much more successful as a piece of art. This is because the show’s distinctively different characters and storylines allow for music that is distinguishable and meaningful, rather than an unending series of repetitions of the same melody, as in both aforementioned megamusicals. Despite this, however, the musical’s didactic writing and Disneyfication of the storylines, for the sake of mass audience appeal, strip the storylines of the sexual and political energy they held in the novel, and thus strip the story of the intricacy, subtlety and ambiguity for which the novel was so praised.

There you have it. Not genius level work, but I cannot deny that this is one of the few essays I have ever written in which I convinced myself of my own thesis. I finished my essay after five hours and, two hours later, had finished my last homework assignment of my junior year. A tiny victory, I suppose, but I have no apologies for the joy it brought me.

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With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Darling, We’re a Nightmare Dressed Like a Daydream

In which the Tay, in her ever-present wisdom, reveals the truth of Daniel’s relationship with his fraternity by means of chart-topping pop music.

To my dear reader,

Every year, for several sessions of four days scattered throughout the summer and winter, over one hundred members and friends of the fraternity of Beta Theta Pi from across North America gather at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There among the endless stretch of fields, they participate in a leadership program entitled The Wooden Institute, named after the famous basketball coach and member of Beta John Wooden. The alumni of the fraternity and friends of Beta lead the undergraduate members in a series of programs, lectures and presentations on different leadership styles, tactics and applications.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

On the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Looking back on my time at this short program and the four days in January I spent there, what I remember most clearly is not the leadership lectures or the plans for personal development I wrote. It is the music – namely, Taylor Swift and film scores.

For those of you so foolish as to not have been following my blog posts before this one, it is imperative that you know this: two of the things that I hold most dear are the music of Tay Swizz (praise be unto Her) and movie soundtracks. They make me feel empowered and elegant in equal shares – two things that I am unlikely to feel strongly in my everyday life. That being said, I came to this fraternity leadership program with no anticipation of them being relevant, and although Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound has been a relatively positive experience for me, I was tentative to place trust in a gathering of college men to whom I would be a stranger.

Upon arriving, the eighty undergraduates of Beta from across the nation were gathered into six “chapters” of twelve members that did not know one another whatsoever. This was, needless to say, a somewhat stilted and awkward interaction, filled with the necessary combination of dead silence and short burst of nervous laughter. But when we arrived at the room where we were to debrief on our new chapter’s get-to-know you activities, we were greeted by “Harry In Winter” – one of the best tracks from the score to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

“All right,” I thought tentatively. “Perhaps I may enjoy myself.”

Three days later, after learning of John Wooden’s life and the history of fraternal life and the many ways to trick people into working together, I sat in a chapter brother’s car as he drove us through the snow on the streets of Oxford on our way to one of the program’s last events. As his phone began to play a new song through his car’s stereo, he grinned and said “Oh man, let’s turn this up!” I had a moment of confusion as he turned up the volume of the speakers before I realized that the song was none other than Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. He rolled down the windows and we sang to the night – poorly, loudly and out of tune, but together.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity's Hall of Chapters.

Me and the other members of Chapter Five pose seductively before the fraternity’s Hall of Chapters.

Friendship is a curious thing, and like many other curious things, such as meatballs and childbirth, may be best left uninvestigated. But despite my trepidation and inhibition, four days of unravelling our lives and finding new ways to change the world around us brought me and my little band of brothers closer than I thought possible. The words of Tswag’s “Blank Space” ring true: “Hey, let’s be friends; I’m dying to see how this one ends; grab your passport and my hand…” And, as the Wooden Institute Demonstrated, I can, in fact, make the bad guys good for a weekend.

With the recent induction of our newest members, the Delta Epsilon colony of Beta Theta Pi at the University of Puget Sound gave to me a sophomore named Zachary Miller as a “Little Brother” – a new member to whom I am to be a “Big Brother” and provide mentorship and guidance. Needless to say, this is a recipe for hilarity and disaster, because Lord knows that any advice from me would likely end in chaos and general discomfort for everyone involved. But a great deal of time has passed since last I felt this excited about anything, and as disastrously as it may end, I am thrilled to share what wisdom I gleaned from my time at Oxford University. Zachary Miller and all the other new members of Beta Theta Pi had best prepare themselves, because after seeing these boys…

Zachary Miller (left) and myself (right): a very big little and a very little big.

Zachary Miller (right) and myself (left): a very big little and a very little big.

…all I can think is “Oh my God, look at that face; you look like my next mistake.”

Love’s a game. Wanna play?

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert