The history of Carmen Ohio

Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

Carmen Ohio is a fundamental part of Ohio State football tradition. How did that come to pass?

The early days of The Game between Ohio State and That Team Up North did not favor the Buckeyes. Their meeting in 1902 in Ann Arbor was particularly painful, with that other team prevailing by a humiliating final score of 86-0. There may have been a silver lining to this painful loss, however.

As the story goes, Fred Cornell – a freshman at Ohio State, a backup defensive end, and a member of the Ohio State Glee Club – poured his heart into the lyrics of Carmen Ohio on the train back to Columbus following that devastating loss and the insult of experiencing That Team Up North's crowd halting their post-game celebration abruptly to solemnly and reverently sing The Yellow and Blue. On the back of an envelope Cornell scribbled lyrics of affection for Ohio State – lyrics to a song that would become an Ohio State football tradition that has endured for more than a century.

It's the stuff of storybooks, right? Well, it may not be entirely true. It's entirely possible that Cornell really wrote the lyrics in 1903, when the Glee Club was actively seeking an alma mater for Ohio State. Carmen Ohio was performed publicly by the Glee Club for the first time in 1903 for an audience that included then-Ohio governor Judson Harmon. A few weeks later, the Glee Club shared the song with a small crowd in Lima Ohio. It took a while for the tune to actually gain traction. The lyrics for Carmen Ohio appeared in The Lantern on October 10th, 1906, and on October 16th, 1906 the lyrics appeared in the program for The Game against That Team Up North. Since that date the song has been sung at every home football game.

Carmen is Latin for "song," and the title literally means "Ohio's song" or "song of Ohio." Cornell borrowed elements of Yale's alma mater when penning Carmen Ohio. The lyrics emphasize all that is good about The Ohio State University, and they resonate with current students, alumni and fans alike.

Oh! Come let's sing Ohio's praise, 
And songs to Alma Mater raise; 
While our hearts rebounding thrill, 
With joy which death alone can still. 
Summer's heat or Winter's cold, 
The seasons pass, the years will roll; 
Time and change will surely show 
How firm thy friendship O-hi-o.

These jolly days of priceless worth, 
By far the gladdest days of earth, 
Soon will pass and we not know, 
How dearly we love O-hi-o. 
We should strive to keep the name, 
Of fair repute and spotless fame, 
So, in college halls we'll grow, 
To love thee better, O-hi-o.

Tho' age may dim our mem'ry's store, 
We'll think of happy days of yore,
True to friend and frank to foe, 
As sturdy sons of O-hi-o. 
If on seas of care we roll, 
'Neath blackened sky, o'er barren shoal, 
Tho'ts of thee bid darkness go, 
Dear Alma Mater O-hi-o.

Carmen Ohio was adapted for brass for the band in 1955 by then-director Jack Evans, and arranged by Richard Heine, and it was at that point that the chimes at the beginning were incorporated into the arrangement. The Orton Hall chimes were installed in 1915 and are a campus tradition unto themselves.

Former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel started a new tradition in 2001. Following every game, win or lose, the team gathers in front of their fans and joins the band (when available) and cheerleaders in honoring Ohio State by singing Carmen Ohio. It is a tradition that current head coach Urban Meyer, along with his family, has continued during his tenure.

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