Last fall, the College modified first-year orientation activities to meet COVID-19 restrictions, leaving many first-year traditions unfulfilled. Among these traditions was the beloved First-Year Sing, an event in which the entering class gathers to sing traditional Kenyon songs for the entire community to watch and heckle.
Upon recognizing that the First-Year Sing was unable to take place last year, Ben Locke, professor of music and director of the Sing, sent a video to the current first years promising that one day he would lead them in their First-Year Sing, regardless of how long it took. “We will make this up somehow,” Locke said in the video.
On Saturday, Aug. 28 — one year later — Locke fulfilled his promise as the Class of 2024’s First-Year Sing, dubbed the Sophomore Sing, took place on the steps of Rosse Hall.
Locke’s determination to lead the Class of 2024 in the Sing stems from his appreciation of the tradition’s deep history, which dates back over 60 years. In an email sent out to students, Locke explained that the First-Year Sing is a “rite of passage” established as far back as 1956 by acting Kenyon President Frank Bailey as a way to introduce students to the “traditions and lore of Kenyon.” Locke spoke extensively about the profound impact these songs have on Kenyon students, serving as a bookend to their college career. “It’s important for any Kenyon student to be aware of those songs,” he said in an interview with the Collegian.
This fall marks the 17th year that Locke has directed the Sing. In fact, Locke has completed three separate Sings this semester: In addition to the Sophomore Sing, he also led the First-Year Sing for the Class of 2025 on Aug. 25, and he even traveled to Washington, D.C. to teach the songs to the 52 first-year students leaving for Copenhagen. Explaining his commitment to the tradition, Locke expressed his deep passion for directing choir. “Group singing is my life. I’m committed to music in all its forms as being a part of humanity,” Locke said. “I’m proud to help carry on that tradition.”
In addition, Locke changed this year’s song lineup, replacing “Ninety-Nine” with “Stand Up and Cheer,” a commemoration of Kenyon’s last victory over Ohio State University in football over a century ago. Locke made this change after tracing back the problematic history of the old song — it was set to the melody of a minstrel song, and the printed piece had an offensive cover. The new song, according to Locke, “doesn’t have any baggage.”
After a year with few in-person events, the Class of 2024 was finally able to participate in a longstanding Kenyon tradition. “I think that people are enjoying the sense that we can do things communally,” Locke said. “Sometimes you have to lose something for a while before you begin to appreciate just how gratifying it is.”