Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The power of the Kokosing

So according to the time/date stamp on my blog, I've missed yet another day in my quest to blog every day for a month. HOWEVER, I haven't gone to bed yet, so it's sort of still Tuesday in my world. And 1:27am central time means it's still Tuesday - for REAL - on the west coast, and since some of my heart resides in SoCal anyway, that makes this totally and completely legit.

Or not.

In any event, it will have to do because despite my very best efforts, I just can't seem to turn back time. Bummer.

I'm coordinating the reunion for my college choral group again (I did it in 2007, too) and today I finished the letter that is going to go to all of the alumni in the next few weeks. It has me super excited for a weekend back on the Hill in May, singing with Doc Locke and the Chamber Singers again. The story I tell in the letter is one of my favorite memories from college, so I thought I'd share it here. I hope you enjoy, even if you've never heard of Kenyon College and you hate choral music. =) xoH

My junior year (1997-1998) we had a tour stop in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I remember distinctly that the average age of our audience was about 97. Most of the people there were half asleep, and there was a gentleman in the front row, right over Doc’s right shoulder in a wheelchair, whom I spent a large part of the concert worried about. He showed absolutely no sign of life whatsoever - his head was on his shoulder, his eyes closed and his mouth half-open. By intermission I was convinced that he had died during the Brahms.

We opened the concert that year with a hauntingly beautiful arrangement of ‘Shenandoah’, and every night Doc said the same thing right before we closed with, (of course), Kokosing Farewell: “We began our concert singing about a river in the south called the Shenandoah. We will close our concert tonight singing about a river up north, a river that runs right next to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, a river called…”

A voice cried out from the audience, interrupting Doc in mid-sentence.


Without warning, the man I had been convinced was, well, DEAD, seemed to spring to life – his head flew up, his eyes opened wide, his hands were gesturing. And as we sang our (honorary) alma mater, he sang HIS (honorary) alma mater right along with us. There were very few dry eyes to be found when we sang “fare thee well” to Old Kenyon that night.

Doc Locke told us on the bus after the concert that the gentleman was, indeed, an alum. And I was convinced that he had, in fact, died during the Brahms only to be revived by Doc Locke and the Chamber Singers and his memories of Kenyon.

As we all immediately started telling and retelling our own versions of the story, (some people had the man jumping from his wheelchair, miraculously regaining the use of his legs), I knew, even then, the magnitude of the moment. I knew, though I could not articulate it, the connection I had to this man,70 years my senior, because of our shared alma mater, and perhaps even more powerful, the connection we both had to the music. I knew then that the Kokosing Farewell and singing with the Chamber Singers would forever be touchstones for me to a time in my life full of love, joy, pain, hope and possibility; a time in my life where I was so open and ready to learn, to absorb, and to grow.

We will never be 18 to 22 again. We will never again be active members of the Kenyon College Chamber Singers: disciples of Doc Locke, memorizing pages and pages of music, learning translations in eleven different languages, rehearsing five days a week, touring for a full week all over the country. But we CAN go back, and maybe for just a brief moment reconnect to an amazing time, a beautiful place, and most importantly: with each other.


  1. Now I REALLY can't wait for reunion. :)

    Two really quick post-Kenyon Kokosing Farewell anecdotes:

    1) When Lauren and I were dating, fairly early in our relationship, we were making breakfast in her apartment and somehow ended up singing through "The Thrill," "Philander Chase," "Ninety-Nine" and, of course, "Kokosing Farewell." We might as well have gone ahead and gotten married then and there, but we waited a couple years until we could reserve the lawn outside the Church of the Holy Spirit.

    2) When Lauren gave birth to Thea, there was an hour or so right after her first hour "out" that Lauren was sleeping (Thea more or less was too) and I was alone with her in my arms. I hummed her every soothing song I knew, starting with Kokosing Farewell. (Of course, she is more or less fated to join the Kenyon class of '32... unless she skips a grade or two in there!).

  2. This story never ceases to move me. I'll (honorarily) be at the reunion in spirit. Much love.