Alumni long for return of Aristophanes’ frogs

Yale cheers with the words of Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs.

Another reason to study your Greek, or so Imre Szalai’s ’96 Latin teacher told him. “When I first came to Yale, I was surprised that no one really knew about the cheer,” Szalai told me. “Then, sometime late in my spring semester, I was visiting friends in another suite in Durfee … to my great surprise … I noticed an old plaque in the entryway that mentioned the cheer.”

I decided to check out the plaque myself.

But juniors can’t get into Durfee. Finally I saw a freshman, who, after much persuasion, opened entryway A. (Note to Yale Security — you should not fear freshmen letting in random criminals in khakis, stained brown dress shoes, and black corduroy jackets. This kid nearly asked for my birth weight and social security number. )

Sure enough, a faded green panel, cleverly placed underneath a radiator pipe, proclaims: “The Yale cheer derived from Aristophanes was first heard near this spot in the spring of 1884 when members of the class of 1886 gave it as a salute to Professor Frank Bigelow Tarbell with whom they were then studying ‘The Frogs’ Brekekekx koax koax Brekekekx koax koax uop uop parabalou.”

James Sinclair, author of A Descriptive Catalogue of the Music of Charles Ives, told me that Charles Ives ’98 (that’s 1898) even used The Long Cheer, as it became known, in his piece “Yale-Princeton Football Game,” which memorialized Yale’s 1897 win over Princeton.

Cheers were different then — “no pom-poms or choreography… just plain noise,” said Frank Gibson ’49, who was a cheerleader at Yale. Gibson continued: “Those were the days when we had football rallies on the Friday nights before a big game, with torchlight parades led by the Band down the streets to the Cross Campus, where we’d have rousing speeches by the coaches and introductions of the players and the Long Cheer would bounce off the walls of Berkeley, Calhoun and Harkness … Aristophanes and his frogs would have been proud of the Yalies in the ’40s.”

Gibson recalls Chaplain “Uncle Cid” Lovett pep-talking at one of those 1948 rallies and Master of JE Robert Dudley French teaching the freshmen the Long Cheer at a summertime beer party. Robert H. O’Connor ’48 recalls Carl “Caesar” Lohman ’10 — Whiff, cheerleader and Secretary of the University (in that order!) — summoning him to Woodbridge Hall, unhappy with how the cheer was being led. “He came out from behind his desk to show me how The Long Cheer should be performed,” said O’Connor.

Yale was run by giants like Lohman — called Caesar because of the way he ran the university, O’Conner notes. It was a different time. The football spirit was different: Gibson recalls the cheerleaders unable to find a parking space at the Bowl when Yale hosted Wisconsin. Cheering was different too.

Bob Pellaton ’59 recalls that while his classmates, a decade after Gibson and O’Connor and seven after Tarbell, rarely used the cheer for games, he and fellow cheerleaders used it for tryouts “not just to preserve an arcane piece of Yale history” but also because “it required one to be very limber and precise in one’s movements for an extended period. All the guys were new to cheerleading and came at it more from the gymnastics side.”

O’Connor recalls that the cheerleaders would spread out throughout the cheering section, involving the alumni “not just when the band plays Down The Field.”

Yalies even used different cheers for different occasions.

Tom Lincoln ’51, whose father played on the undefeated and untied team of 1924, fit The Long Cheer into the panoply of Yale classics: “The frog anthem was rolled out whenever Yale was on a roll down the field to show that everyone on the Yale side of the stands were behind the team — and by its relative obscurity to fill the opposing team players with perplexity and fear.”

The cheer, once important, is now largely forgotten. Said Pellaton: “1957 may well have been the last time it was heard in the Yale Bowl. ‘Do the Long Cheer!’ a small group of older alums close to the field yelled to us cheerleaders during a lull in the game — a request that even then had not been heard for years.”

The Yale Music Library bought the score to Ives’ piece in 2003; no one had looked at it before last Friday, when I did. But Sinclair recorded the piece, complete with former head coach Carm Cozza playing the kazoos, as late as 1990. And just last week, at a mini-reunion of the class of 1949, the Long Cheer broke out after dinner. Says Gibson: “Everyone came in on it. 55 years later. O op parabalou.”

O op parabalou, indeed.

Michael Pomeranz is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Mondays.

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