“I believe in traditions,” Professor of Music Ben Locke said in the basement of Storer Music Hall on the afternoon of August 29, “and I believe in singing. I believe in community singing.”
A few hours later, Locke, fondly known as “Doc Locke” around campus, emerged from Storer in a beige suit and tie, a conductor’s baton in hand, ready to lead the incoming class of Kenyon first years in the First Year Sing, a program of four songs that generations of Kenyon students have sung on the steps of Rosse Hall.
Concern had mounted earlier in the day as heavy rain clouds gathered and it began to pour. Returning students congregated on the lawn in front of Rosse with umbrellas, raincoats and trash bags innovatively turned into ponchos. The school even tweeted that the event would be canceled, though the tweet was later deleted.
The first years did not shy away from the bad weather, and sang with gusto. The class of 2022 is one of the largest incoming classes in recent memory. As such, the quality of the First Year Sing 2018 was enthusiastic and robust. One participant wore a top hat to the event. When asked to comment on the unexpected storms, Locke said, “This year will stand out in the memory of First Year Sings.”
The First Year Sing (formerly known as the “Freshman Sing”) is a Kenyon tradition dating back to the 1950s. President Frank Bailey started it in 1956 in an attempt to build more formal rites of passage for first-year Kenyon students. The Sing serves as an induction of sorts where first years sing lyrics that have been a staple of Kenyon life for many years.
After the first years complete “The Thrill (Alma Mater),” “Ninety-Nine” and “Philander Chase,” returning students join in with “Kokosing Farewell.” This song can echo out past graduation, becoming a motif in life for many Kenyon graduates. Locke even recounted one occasion where the daughter of a Kenyon alumnus used the ballad as her wedding theme, shortly after her father’s passing. With an atmosphere of support and welcome, the Sing bridges generations of Kenyon students.
First Year Sing wasn’t always so civil. In the 1960s, student behavior at the event began to constitute what Locke called “small-H hazing.” The first time Locke conducted the proceedings, someone threw a beer can at his head. After the unruly behavior reached its crescendo in 1989, the administration began reorganizing the event and its norms to better serve the community. “I used to think it was a student tradition, but it’s not,” Locke said. “It’s a faculty tradition, which means we own it. It’s not something the students can run with anymore, it’s not theirs to toy with as they wish.”
While they may not “run with it,” the First Year Sing still keeps an important place in many students’ hearts. “I will never not cry at the first year sing,” says Anna Zinanti ’19, who participated in her last First Year Sing as an undergraduate Wednesday. “There’s just so much love.”
100 word version
“I believe in traditions,” Professor of Music Ben Locke said on the afternoon of August 29, “and I believe in singing.”
A few hours later, Locke emerged from Storer Music Hall to lead the incoming class of Kenyon first years in the First Year Sing, a program of four songs that generations of Kenyon students have sung on the steps of Rosse Hall.
Concern had mounted earlier in the day as heavy rain clouds gathered, but the first years did not shy away from the bad weather and sang with gusto. “This year will stand out in the memory of First Year Sings,” said Locke.