As the clock on Healy Tower struck midnight Thursday night, the Georgetown Chimes performed their weekly recital in Dahlgren Quad, the newest of Georgetown’s oldest a cappella group’s long list of traditions.
Frank Jones (LAW ’48) founded the all-male Chimes when he came to Georgetown in 1946. Sixty-seven years and 240 Chimes members later, the foundation that Jones established continues to grow. Jones passed away Dec. 22 at the age of 92, and though there have been changes from the original four-member barbershop quartet, traditions Jones started and songs he added to the Chimes’ repertoire continue to be sung by the 14 active Chimes.
A Founder’s Legacy
“When you read about his story, he didn’t just arbitrarily create an a cappella group,” Tim Lyons (COL ’15), the newest Chimes member, said. “He really wanted to start this group and he worked for years and years at it. Even well after graduating, he worked to make sure that the group was going to be sustainable.”
“Baby Chime” Lyons had to learn Jones’ story before he could gain his new title as Chime #240.
Jones, Chime #1, was quarterback of the Yale football team from 1939 to 1941, but before he could graduate, he was drafted into the army to fight in World War II. Jones served from 1941 to 1945 and completed his undergraduate degree in the military while earning the rank of captain fighting against the Japanese in New Guinea.
Jones left the military in March of 1946 and wanted to go to law school. Though he wanted to go to Yale Law, he would not have been able to play football there because of the university’s rules.
“He picked Georgetown because Georgetown would allow you to play for one year,” Kevin O’Brien (COL ’65), Chime #57 and Jones’ best friend, said.
When he enrolled, Georgetown Law School’s rules changed, so he was no longer permitted to play football. Nevertheless, Jones relied on his musical background, which consisted of singing with his father and uncles as a boy, and started an a cappella group.
“While he was in the army, he told me he formulated the plan to create the Chimes,” O’Brien said. “The Chimes — I think that’s his great legacy. I think every time The Chimes sing for people and they clap, there is clapping for [Jones] in it. That’s what he created; he nurtured it.”
Two years ago, Jones returned to Georgetown and performed with The Chimes in Gaston Hall at the Cherry Tree Massacre, the largest a cappella festival on the East Coast. Michael Luckey (COL ’13), Chimes Ephus, or elected leader, and Chime #226, had the opportunity to sing with Jones when he visited.
“The guy was 90 years old and had just the greatest voice,” Luckey said. “We went back to the house and sang all these other songs, and he was just pulling songs left and right — songs I had never heard, songs I didn’t know he would have ever known. The man was like an encyclopedia of songs.”
Jones’ encyclopedia of songs included the fight song of nearly every college in the United States. At a Chimes reunion at a restaurant in Palm Desert, Calif., a group of people asked Chimes alumni to sing the Georgetown fight song, O’Brien recalled.
“Then someone at the table said, ‘You guys wouldn’t happen to know the University of Illinois fight song?’” O’Brien said. “And [Jones] said, ‘Sure, I know it.’ And he sang all four verses. And the fellow from Illinois started crying; he actually started crying.”
The man from Illinois happened to own one of the great wine collections in California and gave Jones and the Chimes two bottles he had in his car.
“As we were drinking it, [Jones] said, ‘See? There is an advantage to being a Georgetown Chime,’” O’Brien said.
Though Jones got the wine, he did not drink.
“He didn’t drink, but he was insane,” Chimes President George Peacock (COL ’84), Chime #118, said. “[Jones was] spontaneous, surprising, uninhibited and always cheery and kind. It was an interesting mix. You don’t always find that in people.”
Every Chime described Jones as unconventional and fun loving.
“I would describe him as unique chaos,” O’Brien said. “It was just one fun thing after another. He was just incredibly brilliant, yet he was eccentric.”
Tyler Holl (COL ’13), Chime #234, sang with Jones at the 2011 Cherry Tree Massacre as a neophyte, or Chime-in-training.
“He was just so fun-loving. He was always looking for a way to make people smile and laugh and make everyone feel included,” Holl said. “He brought so many different types of people together because of this group, and I think that really showed in his character. He loved cracking jokes and telling stories.”
Luckey said that he admired Jones and considered him a role model.
“I’ve only met this guy twice, but he has had such a profound impact on my life that when I met him. It was like meeting a childhood hero,” Luckey said. “The man was incredible. When I first met him, he was 90 years old and I was 19, but he was an immediate friend.”
Jones was a law professor at the University of Southern California for 35 years, and his dichotomy between his eccentricity and academic life made him dynamic and complex person, according to O’Brien.
“He was an incredible contrast. You could sit and sing a song with him, then he would do something crazy like he would get up and put ketchup on his throat,” O’Brien said. “He would lean out into the restaurant with the ketchup on his throat and he’d yell, ‘For God’s sakes, don’t order the swordfish.’ Then he’d come back to the table and could talk about some legal doctrine that was very difficult to understand.”
Peacock first met Jones at a 1986 Chimes reunion in Fire Island, N.Y. Peacock said that he made the mistake of bringing his girlfriend at the time to the reunion.
“The moment we walked into the lunch room, out of nowhere came [Jones] and his wife, Erika,” he said. “She was playing the accordion, the chicken dance. And he quickly grabbed my girlfriend and took her out in the middle of the floor, where she knew no one, and made her do the chicken dance for about a minute. And I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s Jones.’”
But while yodelling and dressing in a leprechaun’s outfit, Jones was able to see his dream flourish throughout his lifetime.
“Someone once asked at reunion a few years back, ‘Did you ever think it would come to this? That you’d have 240 people at the reunion, across all generations?’” Lyons said. “And [Jones] said, ‘Absolutely. That was my dream.’”
History and Traditions
Although the Georgetown Chimes are named after the university and its famous clock tower, the group is not officially affiliated with the university.
“We’re technically not a Georgetown group, where we don’t get money from the university, [and] we’re technically not affiliated with the university,” Luckey said. “But I think it is very, very accurate to say we are the Georgetown Chimes.”
The Georgetown Chimes separated from the university in the 1950s.
“[Jones] wanted the group to be very closely tied to Georgetown University, yet he didn’t just want to form a singing group, he wanted to form a collegiate a cappella group,” Steve Alleva (COL ’05), Chime #195, said.
Alleva wrote his senior thesis on the Georgetown Chimes. He credits the Chimes’ initial affiliation with Georgetown for the longevity of the university’s oldest a cappella group.
“The Chimes actually started as a featured quartet of the Georgetown Glee Club,” Alleva said. “After the quartet gained success and notoriety, [Jones] decided to expand the group from four to nine. The university is kind of an anchored rock to tie your boat to.”
The Chimes expanded, the group separated from the Glee Club and eventually completely from the university.
The Chimes maintains its history and traditions with its extensive acceptance procedures, called the neophyte process. To become a neophyte, members must first audition.
“The neophyte process is kind of a combination of a bunch of things,” Jack Sheridan (COL ’14), Chime #236, said. “It’s a preparation for your Chime-dom to see if you can fit into the group, can handle yourself musically and really understand the concept of the tradition we’re trying to uphold. Tradition and history play a big part of our group, and all Chimes — past, present and future — have and will buy into the conception of the group that we have been upholding.”
In addition to learning about the history and traditions of the group, a neophyte must learn more than 120 songs in order to become a Chime. That process can take eight months to several years. Sheridan’s neophyte process took two years.
“[The neophyte process] is basically to test if you are going to fit in with the group, if you can handle yourself musically and if you can kind of keep up the tradition since the Chimes started with Frank Jones,” neophyte Connor Joseph (SFS ’16) said. Joseph was accepted as a neophyte Jan. 13.
Some neophytes never complete the training process and do not end up becoming Chimes.
“It’s a really personal process, and it depends on the character and drive of the individual to push themselves,” Chime #239 Peter Fanone (COL ’15) said. “Some people just haven’t organized their time effectively, and they find themselves junior, senior year still a neophyte, and they decide that it’s best for themselves just not to continue.”
As part of the process, neophytes are required to call and meet alumni. In his years as a neophyte, Lyons called approximately 50 alumni, including Jones, to ask about the traditions and history of the Chimes. Lyons called Jones to ask about the story behind the term “Ephus,” the elected leader of the Chimes.
In February 2010, the Georgetown Voice reported that in Latin, Ephus means “leader among equals.” According to current and former Chimes, however, this is not actually the case. Nevertheless, even within the Chimes, there seems to be confusion regarding the term’s origin. Some of this confusion originates from Jones.
When Lyons called Jones, he told the then-neophyte that the term was from the game of craps.
“There is something when you play craps where you call out ‘ephus iphus ophus,’ and he just liked the sound of ephus, and he decided to coin that as the name of the leader,” Lyons said. “Of course, he’s told some other people some other stories for where he came up with it.”
Current Ephus Luckey and Alleva, who researched the origin of the term as part of his senior thesis, both said that the term was based in baseball.
Rip Sewell, a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher in the 1940s, threw a special pitch called the Ephus pitch. In the 1946 All-Star game, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox became the first player to ever hit the Ephus pitch for a home run.
“Whereas other groups were calling their leaders ‘pitch,’ [Jones], this quirky, funny, off-the-wall guy, said ‘Hey, your leader might be called the pitch, but I’m calling myself theEphus,’” Alleva said. “Because he is the Ephus pitch — the bizarre version of the pitch, the wacky version of the group’s leader.”
Alleva said that the sentiment of the Ephus as a “leader among equals” is accurate.
“The Chimes all consider themselves equals as part of the Chimes brotherhood,” Alleva said. “Even though the Ephus is the musical director of the group, he, at the same time, is still an equal.”
Some of the more visible Chimes traditions include the annual Cherry Tree Massacre, an a cappella festival organized by the Chimes, and the monthly Chimes nights at The Tombs. The 40th Cherry Tree Massacre will begin Feb. 1.
“I really love Chimes nights at the Tombs,” Holl said. “I think it’s my favorite [tradition] because it is a way for all of campus to see what the Chimes is all about. They can really see how much we love each other, how much we care about each other, how much fun we’re having with each other.”
The Chimes has many traditions and a strong history and the group is constantly adding new traditions.
O’Brien said that he couldn’t think of any traditions that have been lost.
“I think the things that have been developed over the years have pretty much worked,” O’Brien said. “They are carefully thought out, and most of the things we create pretty much stay the same. I really don’t think there are any; I think that’s one of the secrets to the group.”
Fellowship and Harmony
Anyone who walked into 3611 Prospect St. at the beginning of a Chimes practice on a Tuesday or Thursday night would likely hear the song “We Meet.”
“We meet again tonight, boys, with mirth and song, and melody flows wherever we go. We dwell in friendship ever so true and strong,” the Chimes sing at the start of every practice.
The song reflects the sentiment of The Chimes’ motto, “Fellowship and Harmony.”
“You make your best friends in this group because it is so attuned to harmony in its essence,” Luckeysaid. “The more you sing, the more you build trust, the more you build harmony, and that builds true friendship. As Chimes, we are always there for our brother Chimes.”
The Chimes is clearly much more than just a singing organization, but it is the music that brings the group together.
“We’ll spend hours and hours and hours singing with each other,” Holl said. “It’s really a brotherhood formed through music. Music is the common bond that we all share, and it’s really an interesting relationship that you don’t find with people very often.”
This brotherhood is not only for active Chimes. Through the neophyte process and annual reunions, all generations of Chimes have the opportunity to meet each other. It is commonplace for young active members of the group to socialize with alumni who graduated decades before they even arrived on campus.
“The alumni presence is one thing that is really cool about this group, and I think is pretty distinct and pretty unique as a Georgetown group,” Lyons said. “For example, when we had auditions for new neophytes last week, we had two alumni stop in — one from the class of 2009 and one from the class of 1984 — both D.C. locals, and no one thought twice about [it]. They just stopped in, we sang a few songs, we caught up and then they left.”
The 1984 alum who stopped by was Peacock. In his capacity as president of the Chimes, Peacock organizes the reunions and non-musical aspects of the group. He also serves as a contact for active Chimes and alumni.
“[Lyons], who is ‘Baby Chime’ right now, probably knows 50 songs that he could sing with anyone going back to 1950, so I think that tie is very important,” Peacock said. “I think it keeps all of us younger and in touch with the school, and it keeps the current undergraduates rooted in the tradition, too.”
Peacock described the close network of Chimes as “Georgetown on steroids.” Even though it may no longer be an official Georgetown organization, the Chimes and its alumni are very involved with the Georgetown community and give a lot back to the university.
“We think of ourselves as a close-knit group, but we also very much think of ourselves as part of Georgetown and part of a Georgetown tradition as well,” Peacock said.
The alumni will reunite again Feb. 23 for the last night of Cherry Tree Massacre, and they will sing with active members, as per tradition.
Continuing Jones’ Legacy
“When Chimes was founded in the ’40s, it was the only a cappella group on campus. A cappella at universities is obviously much larger than it was in Frank Jones’ time at Georgetown,” Alleva said. “I think that bodes well, not just for The Chimes, but for a cappella as an institution. I think that the future is bright for The Chimes.”
The 40th Cherry Tree Massacre will be Holl’s last as an active Chime prior to his graduation. Holl said that he wanted see The Chimes return to the more visible role in the Georgetown community that it once had.
“We are looking for ways to make Chimes more well-known on campus again,” Holl said. “I think all the a cappella groups are very well known on campus, but I feel like the Chimes are kind of pushed to the wayside a little bit because of the type of music that we sing. I think we’re looking for ways to make barbershop cool again.”
At Cherry Tree Massacre next week, the Chimes will sing some modern music along with their traditional repertoire, including “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons.
“The formula they’ve used has worked and has been really successful. It’s a proud tradition,” Joseph said. “It’s about keeping the same formula and trying to adapt it as time goes on and people change. It’s about keeping an ideal going of musicality, friendship and tradition.”
As a recently accepted neophyte and freshman, if Joseph becomes a Chime, he will be with the group for the next few years as an active member.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what the future holds, but I hope that when I’m an active I can contribute to make it stronger and help make the organization grow,” Joseph said.
Jones intentionally built the Georgetown Chimes as a group that could sustain itself, O’Brien said.
“The way Jones created it … he knew that it was going to last forever,” O’Brien said.