"Down the moving line suddenly came the surging chant:
Chi Rho Omega Lambda Chi!
We meet tonight to celebrate
The Omega Lambda Chi!"'
"Omega Lambda Chi" was a fictitious fraternity created by some Yale sophomores in the 1870's. Freshmen were pledged to a non-existent society so they would buy the sophomores cigars and drinks. By the 1880's the name "Omega Lambda Chi" had become applied to a wild May night of campus festivities. Classes paraded (sometimes with a band) singing, shooting firecrackers, and cheering the buildings of the Old Campus. Climaxing the rough and tumble evening was the "Pass of Thermopolae." In this brutal affair, the Freshman class ran the gauntlet through the large stone Phelps Gateway while receiving the blows of the three upper classes. March: Omega Lambda Chi was probably written during Ives' Christmas vacation in 1895 and completed upon his return to school. It bears the title "March on the air: Omega Lambda Chi, 76 South Middle Campus, January 4, 1896." The Yale Daily News reports that the ceremony took place that spring (May 18, 1896) and that one of Ives' best friends D. C. Twitchell (later his brother-in-law) was one of the Omega Lambda Chi marshals. By 1900, the Omega Lambda Chi had become too dangerous and was outlawed by the faculty. Another Ives composition which was inspired by a Yale festive evening is Calcium Light Night.
Charles Ives was a Yale student from 1894-1898. He was a popular figure on campus and was very active in social, athletic, and musical life. In 1928 Ives made a list of his band music on the back of one of his insurance company calendars. At least ten original band works are thought to have existed; there are numerous others that were band inspired. Only March: Omega Lambda Chi and March: Intercollegiate have been found complete in their band form. The tune "Omega Lambda Chi" is derived from "Sailing, sailing" found in the first strain. The second strain and trio are thirty-two measures in length instead of the usual sixteen measures. Also unusual is the Alto Horn solo which opens the trio.
The original Ives score abounds in ambiguities of rhythm, dynamics and articulation. This edition has taken a middle road with the problem of conformity vs. the individuality of the parts.
This edition may be performed by a modern Concert Band. Wind ensembles desiring a 19th Century sonority may perform the original instrumentation by consulting the instrumentation table.