The brick walls of Red Square are plastered with minimalist posters featuring a cherry, a tree and an axe. Dozens of alumni, from the recently employed to the retirement-ready, are planning their return to Georgetown. And in a two-story house beside The Tombs, an all-male, college-aged a cappella group is rehearsing barbershop tunes from the 1920s.
In its 43rd iteration, the Georgetown Chimes’ annual Cherry Tree Massacre takes place in Gaston Hall tonight, tomorrow, next Friday and Feb. 27. This year also marks an important milestone for the Chimes, as the group behind the largest collegiate a cappella festival on the East Coast celebrates its 70th anniversary.
“Sons of Georgetown”
When Daniel Frumento (COL ’18) first arrived at Georgetown, the prospect of becoming a Chime had never crossed his mind. Although he participated in musical theater in high school, Frumento had no previous experience singing a cappella.
“I remember saying to myself that ‘This group would never be a group for me,’” Frumento said. “I kind of thought it was a group of frat boys who sang.”
The Chimes’ reputation as a fraternity-like group is not entirely unjustifiable. When asked to recall a favorite anecdote about the Chimes, many active members and alumni interviewed for this article responded with the same precaution — their stories might not be appropriate for publication. Typical responses include phrases from “open bar tab” to “keeping up with guys who were over 70 years old.”
But one would be mistaken to compare the Chimes to a stereotypical Greek life organization. Instead of entering as a pledge class, neophytes — the new recruits — go through an individually paced process of joining the group, which consists of learning around 130 songs on the Chimes’ repertoire, memorizing tidbits from the group’s institutional history and embodying its ethos of brotherhood.
“We want to see an individual that is fully realized and fully comfortable in who he is, and finds value in a group that can last for the rest of his life,” said Chime number 243 Connor Joseph (COL ’16), the Chimes’ current Ephus — the leader of the active members. “In that way, we depart from every single Greek organization. Maybe we strive for the same things, but the music helps us achieve the things that fraternities and sororities can’t.”
Shortly after Joseph said this, neophyte Sean Barry (COL ’18) walked into the room with a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other. The neophytes had arrived to tidy the Chimes’ house before their rehearsal. Before walking into the actives’ room, all the neophytes knock twice, as per Chime customs.
One year and 143 songs later, Frumento was inducted as Chime number 254, the newest member of the Chimes — the “Baby Chime” — three weeks ago. Frumento considers that moment one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
“Any new student on campus is faced with the challenge of finding a home. When I found the Chimes, it was home,” Frumento said. “It was the place where I found refuge in. I always know that whether it’s five in the afternoon or three in the morning, I’ll always have a place where I can go, where I can laugh and be 100 percent myself. It’s truly something special and something unique.”
“There Goes Old Georgetown”
Unlike other a cappella groups, which are part of the university’s Performing Arts Advisory Council, the Chimes have always remained an independent group. Yet there is a special connection between the Chimes and Georgetown. A walk around campus is enough to show that the history of the Chimes is endlessly intertwined with that of Georgetown.
“You really can’t escape it, whether you like it or not,” Joseph said.
Multiple locations, including Yates Field House and the Cawley Career Education Center, are named after Chimes alumni: Chimes numbers 26 Fr. Gerald F. Yates, S.J., and 47 Charles Cawley (CAS ’62), respectively. Both were heavily involved in the Chimes: Yates joined the group when he was a government professor and Cawley during his undergraduate years.
There is perhaps no stronger relationship between a student group at Georgetown and a university department than that between the Chimes and Lauinger Library, whose namesake, Joseph Lauinger (CAS ’67), was Chime number 71. Lauinger died in the Vietnam War and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star for his bravery. The university named the library in his honor in 1970, and a portrait of Lauinger — clad in a suit and the signature striped Chimes tie — continues to hang on the third floor of the library, visible to the hundreds of students who traverse the lobby every day.
In 1990, Chime number 33 David J. Walsh (CAS ’58) established the Georgetown Chimes Endowment Fund to fund the library’s material purchases, preservation projects and consortium-wide access to resources. A second fund was founded in 2000. To date, the funds’ principal is worth $3.8 million, thanks to annual contributions from Chimes in a range of graduating classes.
In October last year, the library announced that the Chimes have collectively raised $1.2 million, outside the endowment funds, to begin a project to renovate the main reference area on the third floor. The space, which will be named the David J. Walsh Research Commons, will include redesigned consultation areas, study rooms and new seating.
The Chimes’ continued devotion to the library is most evident through their long-standing friendship with Georgetown University librarian Artemis Kirk. Every year, the active members of the group perform at the library’s holiday party, which is followed by a dinner with Kirk, Walsh and the actives.
“I have jokingly said to them that I want to be the first female backup vocalist for the Chimes,” Kirk said. “I’ve never seen a group anywhere so devoted to each other … and to the university.”
Kirk sings nothing but praises for the Chimes. According to Kirk, the Chimes — specifically Walsh — have not only made significant financial contributions to the library, but have also provided moral support. To Kirk, the Chimes is more than just an a cappella group.
“It’s not just about singing,” Kirk said. “It’s about adopting the ethos of the Chimes, which is one of generosity, which is one of camaraderie, which is one — I suppose you would say — of cura personalis, because they are very caring for each other.”
“Don’t Forget Yer’ Brother Chime”
In its seven decades of existence, the Chimes have continuously reflected the zeitgeist and musical culture of the times. The walls in the Chimes House, located beside The Tombs on Prospect Street, are adorned with progressively chromatic pictures of the active Chimes from 1946 to 2015. From one decade to the next, the Chimes go from clean-cut and buttoned-up to mustached and scruffy, then back again.
When Chime number 1 Frank E. Jones (LAW ’48) founded the Georgetown Chimes in 1946, the music scene on campus consisted singularly of the Georgetown University Glee Club. Inspired by the a cappella in other universities, including his alma mater Yale, Jones recruited a group of students to start the first a cappella group in Georgetown. In the following years, the group’s popularity began to crescendo.
In January 1962, then-Ephus Chime number 53 John Broughan (CAS ’64) met with Richard McCooey, the founder of 1789 and The Tombs, to discuss a potential relationship between the group and the restaurant. The Chimes agreed to perform a weekly set at the pub section in 1789, which was then changed to a 10-person table by the fireplace at The Tombs. From then on, Chimes Nights have been engraved as a Georgetown tradition.
“The relationship between The Tombs and the Chimes has changed very little over the years, and that’s a good thing,” 1789 and The Tombs General Manager Rich Kaufman (SFS ’05) wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Neither is an official part of Georgetown University, but both are quintessential parts of the GU experience. … As long as we’re here, our friends The Chimes will have a home right near campus.”
In 1974, another event occurred in the Chimes’ history that would change the music scene on campus. Chime number 83 John O’Grady (COL ’74), who was still a neophyte at the time, proposed the idea of bringing other musical groups together for an a cappella festival. The Chimes then organized what came to be known as the first “Cherry Tree Massacre.” According to O’Grady, tickets for the first show sold out in four hours.
“As luck would have it, Gaston Hall was open on George Washington’s birthday weekend,” O’Grady said. “I figured if we called it the ‘Georgetown A Cappella Festival,’ nobody would be interested. So after giving it some thought — George Washington supposedly chopped down a cherry tree, and then said: ‘I cannot tell a lie. It was me who chopped it down.’”
Through the years, the Chimes continue to be rooted in tradition, occasionally adopting new practices, such as transitioning from LPs to CDs to digital releases. It also plans on implementing a credit card payment system and incorporating as a business, becoming the “Georgetown Chimes, Inc.” Chimes Business Manager John LaBossiere (COL ’17), number 248, explained that incorporation would not only accommodate client payments from large institutions, but that it would be an educative experience.
“There’s no class in college that will teach you how to file your taxes,” LaBossiere said. “Everyone in the Chimes will know what it’s like being in a business. It’ll be a great learning opportunity for entrepreneurial Chimes down the road to see what it’s like to run a business.”
Hearing this, number 252 Duncan Peacock (COL ’16), whose father George (CAS ’84), the Georgetown University Alumni Association president, was Chime number 118, chimed in: “Are you saying that the Chimes teaches you about finance?”
“I’m saying that the Chimes teaches you about life,” LaBossiere said, half-jokingly.
After graduating from Georgetown, most students recall memories from the clubs in which they participated with fondness. For the Chimes, the making of these memories has only just begun. As active members and alumni often say, “Once you’re a Chime, you’re a Chime for life.”
According to Chime number 206 Jeff Carlson (COL ’08), the president of the Chimes, the yearly reunions are always well attended. This June, the Chimes will host its first reunion in D.C. in recent memory.
Carlson said that while the group may change over time, the importance of tradition and maintaining alumni relations will always remain.
“It’s almost like a case of the more they change, the more they stay the same,” Carlson said. “Whenever I see anybody from my time at Georgetown, they don’t necessarily know who I am, but they recognize me because I’m a Chime.”
The current active members engage with alumni, singing at various alumni club reunions and university-hosted events. Every year, the Chimes perform at John Carroll Weekend, a celebration hosted by the Georgetown University Alumni Association, which will take place in Rome this year. Chimes alumni are often recipients of the titular award. Last year, Walsh received the accolade at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, which was attended by around 70 Chimes.
“When I go to a [reunion] event, I can sing for hours with guys who I’ve never met before, who are old enough to be my grandparents,” LaBossiere said.
The annual Cherry Tree Massacre is also a popular occasion for reunions, as alumni and active members come together for the show’s final performance. For this event, the voices of Chimes from all generations harmonize for their signature song, “We Meet.”
George Peacock said the event is a testament to the group’s continued significance for alumni.
“Sixty to 80 guys come back per year for Cherry Tree and other reunions, so pretty much everyone knows just about everyone personally,” Peacock said. “I think that’s meant a lot to the people in terms of getting great advice for their careers.”
As the group ages, so do its members. In the past few years, prominent figures in the group have passed away. Its founder, Jones, died in December 2012, and more recently, the Chimes and the wider university community mourned the losses of Chime number 119 Fr. James Walsh, S.J. in July and Cawley in November 2015.
The deaths of these Chimes, however, become opportunities for shared remembrance and reunion for the group’s alumni. Ninety-four Chimes attended Walsh’s memorial service July 8, possibly one of the largest Chimes reunions in history, according to Joseph. A “Celestial Chime” — a Jesuit faculty member in the Chimes — Walsh remained active in the group for more than three decades from 1980 till his final years.
According to Kirk, in previous years, some alumni have also made efforts to be present at the deathbeds of their fellow Chimes.
“I know that there was a Chime who had a corporate jet at one point, and when some of the elder Chimes were dying, he would fly anybody that was available to the hospital where the Chime was living out his last days, and they would sing together,” Kirk said. “How often does that happen?”
With 70 years of history behind them, the Chimes have become an inextricable fragment of Georgetown’s story. Looking forward to the group’s next 70 years, alumni and actives alike express optimism toward not only the Chimes’ continued relevance, but also their lasting influence. Like others, O’Grady is confident that future Chimes will carry on the group’s legacy.
“Being a Chime was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s continued to be a real joy in my life,” O’Grady said. “I hope it continues so other people can have the exact same experience that I had.”