Frog Corps’ Spirited Singing
The all-male choral group aims to leave a legacy through song.
Frog Corps may not be as well-known, but as sure as Riff Ram Bah Zoo, the TCU group will become another hallowed institution in no time. Such is the hope of Bradley “Brad” White ’79.
A retired music educator, White, has guided male voices in spirited song on campus for the past six years. He restored the tradition of an all-male glee club that sings with strength, style and substance.
White taught high school music and was fine arts director for the Birdville Independent School District until eight years ago. “When I retired, TCU asked me to come and start a men’s choir,” he said. “I’ve taught numerous adjunct classes here, mostly in music education, but this was the first time I taught a choir.”
While Frog Corps is a new group, it is not the first men’s spirit chorus on campus, White said. “Someone sent me a picture of a group of men in tuxedos from the ’40s labeled ‘Glee Club.’”
Relaunching the all-male singing group began with its name. “We wanted to have a name that was clever, spirited, with a family feel,” he said. “Something that was unique to who we are.”
Frog Corps members also traded that stiff glee club look for purple sport coats. “We even have ‘The Purple Hanger Society,’” White said. Society membership is reserved for graduating seniors who have been in the group for seven semesters. They are awarded their jackets to keep. One recent graduate, Alex Tomlinson ’15, said he has worn his jacket with pride to various TCU athletic and fundraising events since his graduation.
VISION FOR VOICES
Although things are harmonious now, it took a little bit of spitting blood to bring White around to the idea of directing singing Horned Frogs. “When TCU asked me to do this, I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” he recalled with a hearty laugh. “I said my vision for a men’s choir is not your vision.”
As negotiations continued, it turned out White’s idea of a spirit group that takes music seriously was exactly what the university wanted. “That was right after the  Rose Bowl. The spirit of the university was at an all-time high,” White said. “It was a great time to start a men’s choir, and we’re getting better all the time.”
Twenty men showed up the first year, White said. Now, there are more than 60 in the singing corps. Tomlinson, a strategic communications specialist with a marketing firm in Fort Worth, was a founding member of Frog Corps.
“I met Mr. White at freshman orientation, and he approached me and asked me if I could sing,” Tomlinson said. White signed him up for Frog Corps right then and there.
“I’ve always had a passion for singing, but had decided against majoring in music,” Tomlinson said. “I still wanted an outlet for singing. So, that’s what I did every Tuesday night for four years, and it was like a fraternity.”
Tomlinson especially liked the diversity of academic majors represented in Frog Corps, which is not reserved for or dominated by music majors. The group gained popularity so quickly that the membership grew from 20 to 40 singers in one semester. By the time Tomlinson graduated in 2015, the roster was up to 70 members.
No matter how experimental or eclectic the concert music selections are, spirit-based traditions are the soul of the Frog Corps. “There are [a few] things we always do: First, we open with the national anthem. I think there is a need for that respect for the nation and a good example of men’s singing,” White said. “The other [things are] the TCU fight song and the alma mater. We call it the spirit set.”
And the rest of the program? “Everything from Bach to Broadway to barbershop,” White said. Maybe even a little bit of Straight No Chaser thrown in.
“We exist to provide music for the university and for community functions,” White said. “Through octets, we do 32 national anthems for the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo performances every year. The rest is campus and community functions.”
But Frog Corps is different from other choral groups on campus, White said. “It’s a challenge to get men to sing, so we are in a constant state of recruiting,” he said. “We are nonauditioned, and out of the 60 to 70 guys, we only have eight or 10 music majors. Some are outstanding music readers. Some are reading for the first time.”
Then there’s “Frogappella,” a 12-member breakout unit that can do chill-bump doo-wop to swoon-worthy love songs, with a dash of choreography. They perform sets in venues too small for the entire group, as well as a solo set within the larger corps performance.
SPRINTING TO REHEARSAL
Corps members meet every Tuesday night for “a lively, two-hour, nonstop rehearsal,” White said.
Paka Davis, a sophomore sociology major from Volcano, Hawaii, joined Frog Corps at the beginning of his freshman year, about the same time he made the Horned Frog football team as a walk-on. During football season, the fullback runs straight from the practice field to the choir room for rehearsal.
“We created the Frog Corps to last 100 years. It’s steeped in tradition, dedication, loyalty and fun.”
“[Frog Corps is] as intense as football, but it’s definitely something I enjoy a lot,” Davis said after the group’s fall concert. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been singing. I sang opera my junior and senior years of high school, and I play ukulele.”
Time management is a challenge, Davis said, since he juggles an on-campus job and participation in other organizations along with classes, football and Frog Corps.
Frog Corps performs three major concerts a year: in the fall, at Christmas and in the spring. The singers also perform with some of the university’s seven other choirs and ensembles, participate in men’s singing festivals and visit high schools.
Music for the group’s recent fall concert ranged from the intricate and exotic Ramkali — an Indian raga — to the rowdy folk-infused Bile Them Cabbage Down. A beautiful, slow ballad, When I Hear Her I Have Wings, showed off the quality of the group’s vocals, as did Frogappella’s take on Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling!
White realizes that most singers in the Frog Corps have “a lot of options” on how they spend their time, so the music has to be relevant, interesting and rewarding, and the relationships worthwhile.
“It’s just not something the average guy does,” he said. “They brag about not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. We’ve won that battle, but not without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
“We talk frequently about the 100-year plan,” White said. “We created the Frog Corps to last 100 years. It’s steeped in tradition, dedication, loyalty and fun.”
Once a year, Tomlinson said Frog Corps alumni like himself are invited back to sing with current members and wear their purple jackets again. They usually sing The
Awakening, an emotional theme song of sorts for returning singers.
“I believe Frog Corps will always be a part of this university,” White, the once-reluctant director, said. “I really do.”
White is proud of the way the all-male group has worked out. He is also proud of the sense of tradition that has grown in six short years on campus. “It is sort of like a fraternity, like [many members] say. They just happen to all sing.
“We’ve removed the fear factor pretty well, I think, by keeping the atmosphere friendly and not intimidating,” White said. “Once they’ve done their first performance, it gets easier. Those that have sung in ensembles before have no problems whatsoever.”
But graduation is bittersweet, White said, even for college men. “The seniors come up in tears,” he said with a grin. “They’ll say it’s something they didn’t think they’d be doing, and yet it’s the biggest thing they’ll remember.”
Video by Leo Wesson for TCU Magazine