Up until 1994, there were very few a cappella groups at Rice. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a group called the Night Owls performed a cappella songs, though unfortunately the group didn’t last too long. After that, there was the all-undergrad, all-male Brown Quartet, and the co-ed, all-Lovett Accord. Accord only lasted a few years (mid 90s). The Brown Quartet had a similar fate, though a last-ditch effort to keep the group alive was the formation of a ‘new’ all-male group, the Fuzz. None of these managed to last. There was also the Lager Rhythms, founded in the spring of 1994 by Rice grad students. The idea of the Rice Philharmonics arose in 1994 during rehearsals for Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Lovett, where a Brown freshman named Laura Huff met a Lovett sophomore named Emily Jiang. As the two got to know each other, their conversation turned towards singing, and they bemoaned the lack of a cappella on the Rice campus. Eventually, they decided to do something about it. Together, Laura Huff and Emily Jiang created the group that would one day be known as the Rice Philharmonics.
Forming the only mixed a cappella group on the Rice Campus was initially quite challenging. Laura and Emily looked for willing members by word of mouth initially. The majority of the group’s original members came from Brown, and eventually, they were able to recruit the Brown quartet itself to the group. In order to have some music to begin practicing, Laura went back to her high school over break and copied some music. The group also took contributions of music from several other members’ high school collections, thus making a very motley assemblage of music at the beginning, including madrigals, spirituals, and more typical a cappella songs. Originally, the group met to practice once per week, but this soon increased to two or three rehearsals per week.
Phil Rothman was a composition/percussion major who was recruited to be the group’s first music director. Ultimately, his name was assimilated into the group’s name as part of a pun. He contributed the group’s first original pieces, “The Boy Who Grew Up Upside Down” and “Baker 13”, which were written by his roommate, A.J. McCaffrey, and arranged by Phil himself.
Then in the fall of 1995, the Rice Philharmonics took the campus by storm, raising a cappella into the consciousness of the Rice community. Their debut concert occurred at the Cohen House in front of a large audience of prospective minority students. In the early years, the Philharmonics performed at a variety of venues, including the Gillis-Camacho study breaks (which became a tradition), private parties, a Shepherd School tribute to P.D.Q. Bach, and concerts with the Philharmonics and sometimes visiting a cappella groups. Several of the group’s members have come from the Shepherd school, though interestingly enough, the group historically had more instrumental music majors than vocal ones.
The group’s second music director, Andy McKay, who took the lead in the group’s second year, was critical in shifting the group’s sound in more of typical collegiate acappella direction. As the duties of the music director became more demanding, Laura Huff became the group’s first administrative director. The group’s first recordings were all done by Dr. Bill, using his equipment, and the product of those recordings was given only to the group’s members. The group’s first road trip was up to UT in Austin to perform in a concert with two groups there, including Schrödinger’s Cat. Future road trips involved traveling to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.
Over the years, several things changed for the Rice Philharmonics. New members came to be recruited through auditions, which typically involved vocal testing, tonal memory, and singing excerpts from “Good Ole’ Acappella” and “Lonesome Road”. The group eventually became an official Rice organization in time, as well. Around that time, more administrative positions were created officially to help the group run smoothlyPresident, Business Manager, and Publicity Manager.
Since the early days, the Rice Philharmonics have greatly expanded their influence across campus, in the Houston community, and throughout the nation by competing in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.
The Philharmonics sing pieces a wide range of styles genres. Recent arrangements span from classic rock, indie/alternative, and R&B to mainstream pop and even electronic music. Outside of performance, some Phils even try singing songs in multiple different styles for fun, such as singing a Beatles song in the style of country.
The Phils perform at many different venues on Rice’s campus and throughout the Houston area. In addition to our annual concerts for Homecoming and Christmas in the Fall semester and our All-Request Concert in the Spring, we perform at various administration events and present quartets to students across campus around Valentine’s Day.