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11:44 a.m. - October 06, 2006
Chapel Sing 2006
Ah, nothing like Homecoming at Wabash College for pomp and tradition.

Yes, this weekend it’s Homecoming. Today they will have a cheer contest. Tomorrow, the fraternity pledges will be displaying their floats and banners and at halftime of the football game, they will have the queen contest. Yes, you heard me. The queen contest. Remember, Wabash is an all male school.

“Yes, Mom and Dad. I’m our fraternity’s homecoming queen this year, and my outfit is SOOOO cute!”

Wabash College, teaching 18 year olds how to cross dress.

One of the finest traditions of Homecoming occurred yesterday. It was the annual Chapel Sing, where freshmen stand and sing the school song, Old Wabash, for an hour, and the pledge class with the most spirit, zeal, and knowledge of the song are declared winners.

Now, what’s so hard about that?

First off, the song is ginormous. Here it is, and as you can see, that’s a lot of song to learn and sing.

Second, the pledges (and some independents who participate) are supposed to sing it with all the heart and gusto they have for the hour. They are supposed to know all of the words. They are supposed to sing it loudly and not tire out.

Third, the Sphinx Club, a campus organization that determines the winner of the Chapel Sing, wanders around the pledge classes and tries to distract them. How do they distract them? Well, they blow cigar smoke in their face. They gang up on a freshman and sing other songs in their ear.

Yesterday, I saw one Sphinx Club member trying to get a pledge to break by reading his Biology textbook out loud and showing him pictures. Clever.

So it’s not that easy.

The rules right now are that the freshmen line up by pledge class in front of the chapel, and sing the song. Every once in a while, a pledge will be taken back into the chapel and at that point he will have to sing the song to the Sphinx Club members. If the pledge fails to know the words, he will have a red “W” spray painted onto his white t-shirt.

And, of course, I’m sure the actives in the house will let him know about his transgression at some point.

That’s tame compared to what they used to do. In the 60’s, when it wasn’t a competition between pledges and ALL freshmen had to participate, failing to know the song meant that your head shaved into a “W”.

In my era, if you didn’t know the song, you had a red “W” written on your forehead in magic marker.

The Sphinx Club then will take some of the classes back into the chapel, where as a class they have to sing the song and that’s how they determine the winner.

Almost the entire campus and some local alums come out for the show. Here in the office, many of us are alums and we root for our pledges and razz the others. We have Betas, Delts (go Delt!), FIJIs, Lambda Chis, and Phi Psis working here, so they always get some love and support from us.

This is a tradition, but it has gone through some changes. Even though the motto at Wabash seems to be “Second time – it’s a tradition. Third time – it’s ALWAYS been done that way.”

When they decided not to require all freshmen to sing the song, it became a competition between fraternities. All of the fraternities were lined up next to each other in front of the chapel, and sang the song with vigor.

Each pledge class wanted the best spot, so there was some issues with pushes and fights over the years. So a few years ago, they assigned spots for each fraternity, still on the chapel steps. That didn’t quite alleviate the problem, so now the line up in ranks in front of the chapel.

When I was there, we all sang the song, and we sang it loud, but we used the melody. I remember that after lunch one day, about a week into classes and our pledgeship, all of the freshmen in the Delt house were sent to the basement. There, we were introduced to a man named Kandu. I say man, because he looked like he was 30 even though he was a senior. He just got back from Marine Boot Camp over the summer (he’s a Marine to this day) and none of the freshmen had met him because he wasn’t at any rush functions because of basic training.

He started in being our drill instructor on how to sing the song. And yes, he was definitely a D. I.

Needless to say, he scared the living piss out of us. But he worked with us and worked with us, and we won the darn thing! The Sphinx Club at that time also fed us saltines, and distracted it with some of Larry Flynt’s finest publications in an effort to distract us. We didn’t flinch.

But when I came back to work at Wabash, things were a bit different. Instead of singing the song, it became just a loud loud gruntfest, with each class bellowing one or two words and holding it as long as they could before moving to the next word.

(Warning: Very Obscure Music Reference) It was like the Swans at full volume recording old Wabash in 1 / 1 time. (This Has Been A Very Obscure Music Reference)

There was no recognizable song at all, just a lot of young men trashing their voices.

So in 2004, the administration asked the Sphinx Club to restore it to an actual sing, and well, the reaction was as if Osama Bin Laden had come to campus to be a speaker. It was heresy to change the way Chapel Sing was done, even though it had changed already in the past decade.

But boys will be boys, and they will become men, and Chapel Sing lives on.

It was nice to hear the glorious cacophony of 10 groups of young men singing “Old Wabash” as I walked to the chapel yesterday to see the event. It’s a rite of passage for all Wabash men to sing the school song, to bond with their pledge brothers, and to know that others have stood in your shoes before you and gone on to become great men doing great things.

Sigh…now I’m getting all weepy.

Here are some links to photo albums and a Soundslide.


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