Taking note of a revived Landon tradition

A new crop of musically inclined Upper School students has revived The Clef Dwellers, an acapella group with a rich history at Landon.

The original group formed in 1961 and was active until the 1970s. Former member Knight Kiplinger '65 said the Clef Dwellers recorded multiple albums under Lower School teacher and advisor Jim Lewis, who had the vision of the group as an auxiliary to the Glee Club, which all Clef Dwellers were required to be a part of.

The Glee Club was supervised by Music and Biology Teacher Dr. Hugh Hayward. It performed classical music and played in venues like DAR Constitution Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra. 

The Clef Dwellers sang at Landon events like homecoming dances, Father’s Day lunches, the Azalea Festival, and at local schools such as Holton-Arms (where Brooke Seawell ’65 met his future wife Rosemary, who still fondly remembers him as a baritone in the group). The Clef Dwellers sang contemporary doo-wop hits at school events in the ‘60s such as "Angel Baby" and "Eddy my Love".

The 1965 album “Music by Which to Hold Your Ears

Past members have fond memories of their time in the group. “The Clef Dwellers was a star in my constellation,” Marcos Williams ’65 said. It was one more way to enliven my experience at Landon because it taught me how to hunker down and get things done."

“Choral singing at Landon was my favorite student activity,” Kiplinger said. Kiplinger went on to sing at Cornell University and with The Washington Chorus, which has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap.

Clef Dweller Scott Watson ’70 organized a multi-class Clef Dwellers reunion in the 1990s, and the group performed at Landon alumni events.

“Acapella is hard because you have the combination of stress and fun but try to push the stress down a bit and the fun up,” Seawell advises the current crop of Clef Dwellers.

Concert photo from 2023 concert

Conrad Brady ’23 came to Landon as a Form II student from the Haverford School in Philadelphia—which has a strong choral tradition with the acapella group The Notables—and was inspired to bring that tradition to Landon. 

“I felt that Landon needed an elite group, a group of kids that are engrossed and want to be there to sing, specifically acapella,” Brady said. He added that he wanted to form an audition-based group to elevate the talent level in hopes that students would “take more pride in their singing.” 

When Brady entered Form III, he talked with Upper School English teacher Dan Moorin—who sang acapella in college—about starting a group at Landon. Music teacher Dr. Michael Wu also offered to serve as an advisor to the group. Moorin discovered The Clef Dwellers of the 1960s and 70s and had the idea of reviving the name. Brady was planning to announce the formation of the group in the Spring of 2020, but it was postponed because of the start of the pandemic. 

The Clef Dwellers performed and met virtually in the 2020-21 school year with the help of Zak Oehlerking ’22 and Win Abeles ’21. They did not perform in-person until the Winter Choral Concert in 2021. Brady held the first formal auditions in the spring and fall of 2022, which he said “set the tone” for the group. 

The group performed in front of the Upper School for the first time at a school meeting where they sang “Little Lion Man,” which gained The Clef Dwellers significant recognition and respect from the student body, Brady said. Choosing their own songs, often contemporary, Brady said was a draw for some members. They practiced up to four times a week before a performance.

Brady said performing at Baccalaureate was “awesome to sing with the guys I’d be graduating with the next day and with the younger guys who could see how much it meant to us.” 

“To the older guys [the previous Clef Dwellers], thank you for what you created... to the future guys, keep the culture going where people are excited to sing,” Brady said. 

Hugh Neill ‘24 and Alex MacMillan ‘24 will take over as the leaders of The Clef Dwellers for the 2023-24 school year.

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