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August 05, 2019

University Life in Song: Alma Maters

An alma mater is the official song or hymn for a school or university. In contrast to school “fight” or marching songs, alma maters traditionally have a reflective or affectionate tone and are played or sung as a way to honor the institution. The lyrics of these songs often foster a sense of identity and connection through mention of hallmarks of life at the institution.

Examples of occasions when an alma mater is performed may include openings of sporting events following the national anthem, inaugurations, commencements, or other official ceremonies. As a sign of respect, when an alma mater is played, it is expected that the audience should stand and uncover their heads. The music of an alma mater may be an original composition or set to the melody of familiar hymns or songs.

Given the various schools and colleges that eventually came to comprise Case Western Reserve University, a variety of alma maters are represented in the University Archives, including those of Cleveland College, Case School of Applied Science, Western Reserve University, Flora Stone Mather College for Women, and the Western Reserve University Library School, as well as many other songs and cheers. The songs exhibit both a sense of loyalty to and pride in their institutions, as well as hints of the values and social context of the time.

In a letter dated, February 13, 1935, the director of Cleveland College, A.C. Ellis expressed his desire that a song, “express the unique characteristics of Cleveland College . . .” including it place amidst the “. . . clamor of public life.” Dr. Frederick H. Adler responded with a song that includes this verse: “From lightning flash of rod on steel, And whirling spokes of giant wheel, From clanging yards where motors roar, And dashing waves on Erie’s shore”.

Western Reserve College submitted four songs to the 1882, American College Song Book, including, “Time for All Things,” “College Song,” “Our Western Reserve,” and “Memories of W.R.U.” “Our Western Reserve” was also known as “Our Fair Alma Mater.”

The Student Council of the Flora Stone Mather College for Women adopted an alma mater in 1945. It was written by Ann Gaither ’44 for the sophomore stunt in 1941. By 1958 the song was “musically too hard to sing, and the words out of date” according to the lyricist, Leslie McAney and composer Marcia King who created this replacement.

There was a need for a new alma mater upon the federation of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University to provide a song that would unite the experiences of both institutions. Chancellor John S. Millis announced the results of a contest to select a new alma mater on March 29, 1968. Barbara Denison wrote the lyrics and Jerry Pietenpol composed the music. Both were University employees and Ms. Denison was also an alumna. About thirty years later an “updated” version was called for in 1998. The result was Scott Miller’s, “Shine On, Case Western Reserve.”

Perusal of student newspapers reveals that alma maters may have held varying levels of interest among different segments of the campus population over time, ranging from enthusiasm to disdain. Despite this range of interest, song remains a traditional and unique way to unite and honor the university and its constituents.

Written by Christine Liebson

Posted by hxy2 at August 5, 2019 01:25 PM

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