Interest in Fraternity songs dates back to 1876. Records from the Iowa Beta Chapter at Simpson College attest to this claim. The “Hallowe’en Song,” “I.C. Marching Song” and the “I.C. Banquet Song” are a few of the songs appearing in their early chapter records. In 1882, a constitutional provision was made at the Burlington Convention that meetings should “close with the singing of an I.C. song.”
Early songs were usually poems sung to popular, well-known tunes. The first song to be sung across chapters was the “Founding Song,” written by Kansas Alpha Ethel Beecher Allen Hamilton. It was sung to the tune of “Dearest May.” The song appeared in the first issue of The Arrow in May 1885. Thereafter, chapter members continued to pen their own songs and shared them with other chapters at convention.
A committee was appointed at the 1886 Indianola Convention to “collect poems and songs for an I.C. songbook.” But at the 1888 Ottumwa Convention, it was recommended that instead of the songbook, songs be published in The Arrow. As a result, songs appeared in The Arrow from time to time.
The first attempt to collect the songs from the magazine occurred at the 1890 Galesburg Convention; a motion was passed that songs be printed in pamphlet form. The task was turned over to the Michigan Beta Chapter and the result was a 20-page pamphlet entitled “A Collection of Pi Beta Phi Songs of the Various Chapters.” It included 13 songs.
In 1895, a committee was appointed to compile and publish a Fraternity songbook. “The Songs of Pi Beta Phi” was published January 1, 1899, by Pennsylvania Beta Mary Bartol (Theiss). It was 117 pages and contained 78 songs. The songbook had five subsequent editions: “The Songs of Pi Beta Phi” (1904 and 1914), “The Pi Phi Song Book” (1923) and “Songs of Pi Beta Phi” (1931 and 1946).
It’s important to note that the 1943 Arrow included a song supplement. While the Fraternity wished to publish a new songbook, World War II prevented the project from being completed at that time. The preface included a wish that the supplement would be welcomed wherever Pi Phis loved to sing.
In the fall of 1962, the “Pi Phi Party Song Book” was released. It was followed by another new songbook in 1967. At the 1991 St. Louis Convention, “The Music of Pi Beta Phi” was introduced. The three-ring notebook format included words and music for 37 original Pi Phi favorites as well as words only to 57 parodies. It was accompanied by a tape of the melodies, enhanced on a keyboard.
Over the years, Pi Phi music was also made available as sheet music. One of these songs was the prize convention song of 1923, “Pi Phi Pals.” It was published by the National Fraternity Publishing Company and made available to the public. It was written by Nebraska Betty Langworthy, with music composed by Wisconsin Beta Dorothy Kohn and Norval B. Langworthy. Many pieces of Pi Phi sheet music are housed in the archives at Pi Beta Phi Headquarters.
Ring, Ching, Ching
In 1888, Iowa Alpha Louise “Lulu” Sawyers Linn wrote the song that has belonged distinctly to Pi Phi through the years: “Ring, Ching, Ching.” Sung to the tune of “When I Was a Student at Cadiz,” it was written in response to a request from The Arrow Editor asking for song submissions to publish. The adoption of “Ring, Ching, Ching” at the 1892 Lawrence Convention did much to encourage singing.
It was not until 1915 that Louise, living in Portland, Oregon, learned from Grand Vice President Nina Harris Allen, Illinois Beta that the words she had written some 27 years earlier had become famous as a Pi Phi song. Then the yellowed piece of tablet paper on which the poem was written was taken from an old college album and was presented by Louise to the Oregon Alpha Chapter. The handwritten poem now resides in the archives at Pi Beta Phi Headquarters.
In 1933, Louise told The Arrow: “I remember quite well my freshman year, when with schoolgirl enthusiasm I wrote some words, never dreaming they would be sung beyond the walls of my own chapter. If I had known the song was going to be preserved in the hearts of many Pi Phis I would have made an effort to write something more worthwhile. When I was told ‘Ring, Ching, Ching’ was sung at all national conventions, I felt like making an apology for its poor construction.” Today “Ring, Ching, Ching” is the most popular of all Pi Phi songs and is often sung at Pi Phi celebrations.
There have been awards over the years for best original Pi Beta Phi song, best light parody song and best serious parody song. The awards were given in both alumnae and collegiate categories.
One of these awards is the Song Vase, also known as “A Cup in Praise of Song,” which was first awarded at the 1925 Lake of Bays Convention. The beautiful silver sterling vase was given to the Fraternity by the New York Alumnae Club. It was awarded at each convention to the chapter which submitted the best song of permanent value. The judging of songs was done by those attending convention. The convention chorus sang the songs, and the votes were tallied. Song contests at convention have produced many of the songs chapters have learned and made their own.
At the 1956 Pasadena Convention, an award was introduced for the Song Chairman of the winning chapter. She was awarded the Symphony Pin, a pin in the form of a musical staff signature with the Greek letters, set with a diamond. It was worn by the winner during the interim of convention.
In an effort to encourage chapters to learn the traditional songs, rather than focusing on increasing the song library, the Fraternity discontinued Music Awards at the 2003 Anaheim Convention. Fewer songs were being written and the number of submissions had been dwindling already as well.
This post is courtesy of Fraternity Archivist and Historian Fran Desimone Becque, New York Alpha. The article originally appeared in the Fraternity Heritage Manual Section 9: Music, available in the Resource Library on the Pi Beta Phi website.