From Illinois Wesleyan University Magazine, Spring 2008
Something to Cheer About
From father to son, Don and Ralph Freese
give Titans generations of good cheers.
Don Freese at the piano where he wrote his “Victory March,” which sits next to sheet
music for his father’s “Cheer Song,” written almost 100 years earlier.
Titan sports fans got a new tune to cheer their team to victory this fall. “Illinois
Wesleyan Victory March” was written by Donald Freese ’43, whose father composed the
traditional Wesleyan fight song almost a century ago.
Don’s composition premiered at a football game in September and was also performed
by the IWU Titan Band at the final game of the season. Music-composition graduate
Benjamin Johnson ’07 helped score the final version of the song for the sheet music.
Don’s father, Ralph S. Freese ’11 (that’s 1911), wrote the “Wesleyan Cheer Song” in
1909 and fellow Phi Gam Chalmers H. Marquis ’10 penned the lyrics. Not only was Ralph
the senior class president (an honor bestowed later on Don); he was also Illinois
Wesleyan’s “head yell master,” whose job was to provide songs and yells or cheers
for major campus events.
While at school Ralph also wrote a number of songs honoring the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity,
including “Fiji Moon,” “Fiji Honeymoon” and “Alpha Deuteron Rag,” which was recorded
with altered lyrics by Tennessee Ernie Ford as “The Tennessee Rag.” Despite being
unable to read music, Ralph wrote over 100 songs during his career and was said to
be able to play a tune on the piano after hearing it only once. Many of his songs,
including “In the Baggage Coach Ahead,” “My Caroline,” and “California Sue” were recorded
and published as sheet music.
For Illinois Wesleyan’s 125th anniversary, celebrated in 1975, Don presented the original
manuscript of the “Wesleyan Cheer Song," which is now safely preserved in The Ames
Library. (See above image.)
While the “Victory March” is Don’s first published song, he has written over 80 tunes,
many of which he has composed on the piano in his Bloomington home.
As with many of his songs, the tune to “Victory March” came to Don in a dream. “I
woke up and I was singing a march. Music came to me — “march, march, march” — and
I thought ‘What am I going to do with it?’ And I said ‘Wait a minute; I’ll write it
for Wesleyan.’” Finishing the song was more time-consuming. “It took a while,” said
Don, “because I kept improving it.”
Don said that he doesn’t mean for his composition to replace his father’s beloved
“Wesleyan Cheer Song.”
“It’s still played at almost all athletic events,” Don said. “It’s always a thrill
to hear it.” As to the experience of hearing his own “IIlinois Wesleyan Victory March”
played before a cheering crowd, he has one word to describe it: “Wonderful!”
to read more from IWU Magazine