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Spirit & Sports

The tears may roll

More than a century after it was penned, ‘Carmen Ohio’ still unites the Buckeye family.

a photo collage of a black and white portrait of Fred Cornell and sheet music for Carmen Ohio over a red photo background.

Fred Cornell, who attended Ohio State 1902–04, wrote the lyrics to Carmen Ohio. 

Like the alumni who walked campus paths more than a century before them, Noah Miller and Stephen Hayden experience the power of the Buckeye alma mater. “Carmen Ohio” holds a special place in their hearts and their community — and the unifying force it spurs is rooted in tradition and even research.

“I distinctly recall singing ‘Carmen Ohio’ for the very first time with everyone,” says Miller, a second-year student who sings with the Men’s Glee Club. “It was the exact moment that I felt like I was really part of something — something big.”

Hayden was studying abroad in Europe when he experienced a surreal alma mater moment. “We sang ‘Carmen Ohio’ walking through the streets of Berlin on our last night in Germany,” says Hayden ’19, who also was in the Glee Club.” All of the students sang together. It was unifying, very identifying.”

Evoking that sense of belonging is the magic of “Carmen Ohio.” Research shows synchronous human behavior, such as when people move and sing together, can create a bond, explains David Huron, professor of music theory.

Carmen Ohio

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 thy name Of fair repute and spotless fame; So, in college halls we’ll grow To love thee better — O-hi-o.

Though age may dim our memory’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, Thoughts of thee bid darkness go, Dear Alma Mater — O-hi-o!

— Lyrics and arrangement by Fred Cornell, Ohio State student 1902–04

Carmen Ohio, Marching Band

Audio file

Carmen Ohio, Jimi Hendrix style

Audio file

“‘Carmen Ohio’ is not something you sing in the shower. Inevitably it’s sung in a group, where a unique dynamic occurs,” he says. “The very first line — ‘Oh! come let’s sing Ohio’s praise’ — is an invitation to be part of the group, to build allegiance.”

Luckily, just about anyone can master it.

“It has pulse. It’s melodic. It’s easily memorable, singable and attractive,” says Bill Ballenger, director of the School of Music. “It tugs at the heartstrings of anyone connected with the university. Face it, it’s cool.”

A request from the Glee Club prompted freshman Fred Cornell to pen the alma mater in 1903. Set to “Spanish Hymn,” a reverent melody in Christian churches, it was first sung by Glee Club members and gained popularity after The Lantern published it in 1906. (Years later, a legend circulated that Cornell wrote it on a train returning from a football drubbing by That Team Up North, but most accounts favor the former story.)

The word “Carmen” means song or poem in Spanish and Latin, so “Carmen Ohio” translates as “Song of Ohio.”

“The first verse is what we all know and sing. It’s relatable and optimistic, and it focuses on friendship. It’s brilliant — especially the lines about the passage of time, the cycle of the seasons,” says Scott Jones, associate director of bands. “In contrast to the youthful enthusiasm of the earlier verse, the last two verses refer to darker days ahead, of growing older and harder times.”

Quite frankly, says former marching band director Paul Droste, “the first verse is quite enough. It says who we are and why we’re singing Ohio’s praise.”

The Orton Hall chimes became the opening notes of “Carmen Ohio” in 1955. The response was so great, the chimes became a permanent prefix.

In recent years, another tradition has taken hold: “It’s very meaningful when the football team comes over to the band and sings the alma mater after the game,” Droste says. “No matter what’s happened in the game — even if we lose, which we don’t very often — the song promotes unity and camaraderie. It’s powerful.”

One song, many interpretations

Carmen Ohio has been lovingly, reverently sung through the decades by stadiums filled with thousands, by the vaunted Ohio State Men’s Glee Club, and by gifted soloists like former Buckeyes linebacker Cie Grant.

Cie Grant is singing Carmen Ohio

The Ohio State University

Aerial photo of the Ohio State Men's Glee Club standing in a semi-circle with a conductor standing in the center. The men are wearing red suit jackets and tan pants, while the conductor wears all black.

The Ohio State University School of Music

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