Once a year, several Kenyon singers take flight to experience the East Coast. Along the way, they encounter strangers, alumni and current students throughout the country who are eager to hear them perform. During this winter break, Kenyon’s self-described “premier tenor-bass a cappella group,” the Kokosingers (“Kokes”), embarked on the “Kokosingers Magical Mystery Tour.” Throughout the 10-day tour, the group performed in front of energetic audiences in venues such as retirement homes, mental health clinics, high schools and restaurants.
While the tour usually takes place annually with the help of a community of Kokes alumni, the a cappella group was unable to tour in 2021 and 2022 due to the pandemic. This year, however, the group revived the tradition with a big set list for various gigs in Newton, Mass.; Essex, Conn.; New York, N.Y.; Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. From putting together a concert at Connecticut’s Griswold Inn to landing a gig at a vibrant New York City bar called Madame X, Kokes President Brian Coburn ’23 organized most of the trip’s agenda.
Sam Morris ’25 shared that the tour was one of his favorite college experiences thus far. “A lot of it was just focused on bonding and making sure we get closer as a group, but while also trying to do as much community outreach as we could,” he said. “A lot of the highlights were with meeting previous Kokes alumni and getting to hear what it was like in years past. Definitely a personal highlight was [that] we got to visit Cape Cod and do a bunch of these retirement home gigs. And it just felt really good to see how happy the music was making people.”
The tour was one of the first times that younger members were able to perform with the group in front of an audience outside of the Kenyon community. Morris admitted that nerves presented a challenge for him: “As funny as it sounds, it’s still nerve wracking performing in front of an audience of high schoolers, probably more so than it was even with older Kenyon alums.” He was able to tackle nerves with the help of his musical mates, who were always able to uplift one another with pep talks and daily practices. Additionally, to ease members into the experience, Coburn organized the tour with the intention that the audiences would gradually grow in size throughout the 10 days.
Audience members and performers alike described that the event at Madame X was a very lively evening, when the Kokes performed in a joint concert with The Owl Creeks, another Kenyon a cappella group. “A highlight would definitely be Madame X because it was so fun to see so many Kenyon people,” said Will Breinholt ’25, a second-year Kokes member. “It was just packed, like, people out the door. And I felt like the energy was really good and everyone was excited. And it was fun to be with the Owl Creeks, too.”
Niamh Cahill ’25 ventured to New York City from neighboring state New Jersey to attend the performance that night. “I’ve always been a really big fan of a cappella here at Kenyon,” she said. “It was kind of like a little reunion… I’m used to hearing [the Kokes] sing at Rosse Hall, so [hearing them in] a different space was really cool. It was very intimate.”
To Morris, the strong community is what makes Kenyon’s oldest all-male a cappella group so special. “It’s a really tight-knit group. If anything, it feels more social club than ‘sing-y.’ I mean, obviously we practice a lot and our goal is to sound super good. But the most noticeable thing is making sure that we are a group of friends — that we all like to spend time with each other and be around each other,” he said.
The group of 10 hopes that more students will be eager to join next year, especially because many Kokes seniors are graduating this spring.