BACK IN THE 1920s, nearly every student at the then–University of Buffalo knew the alma mater. It was taught during freshman year, sung at every major event and was the theme music for each year’s commencement ceremony. In fact, many campus songs were sung by choruses and played by bands in praise of our university in the early part of the 20th century.
(Photo by Enid Bloch)
But over time, the UB alma mater, as well as other campus anthems, became less and less familiar to new generations of students. Until recently, this once-familiar tune was most often heard at an occasional basketball game or awards event, with no lyrics to be found anywhere.
Of course, one could attribute the demise of the alma mater to dated lyrics that refer to martyrs conquering the Native Americans near the shores of Lake Erie:
It’s likely that the university’s alma mater, and other traditions for that matter, began to fade from campus culture beginning in the 1960s. For a host of reasons, the university had not found the right opportunity to reintroduce the song—until now.
In 2007, UB unveiled a new, improved alma mater. It’s the same melody, perhaps a bit more upbeat in tempo, with new words written by a group of UB students to bring it in line with the times. It was performed at the 2007 commencement ceremonies and will be heard regularly at future athletic and academic events.
One very important constituency is now learning the alma mater from the moment its members step on campus: first-year students. Nearly all incoming UB students and their accompanying family members were taught the alma mater during freshman orientation this July and August.
To teach the song, the student affairs staff had this notion to tap into the hidden talents of UB’s newly hired alumni director—me. Of course, I was thrilled to answer the call. Not only was this a chance to use my musical training to the benefit of an established program, but it also gave me a wonderful opportunity to introduce a new generation of UB students to the accomplishments of UB’s alumni, describe the benefits of alumni programs and services, and emphasize the value that the alumni association can offer both graduates and current students.
Graham Stewart (Photo by Enid Bloch)
By my account—and through anecdotal comments from those who attended our singing demonstration—this “re-tradition” seems to be catching on. Students and parents responded admirably to the task of joining me in singing the new alma mater when asked to do so during the welcoming session for each of eight orientation sessions. I sang it once through first; then the words were projected above the stage so that the audience could sing along. The updated lyrics and tempo reflect the pride we hope all UB graduates and students will feel for their university. Here’s the refrain:
The nearly 3,000 students throughout the summer were enthusiastic about the assignment—their voices filled the Mainstage auditorium and they kept in time with Victor E. Bull, UB’s beloved mascot and conducting maestro. Later in the program, I taught them the UB fight song, assisted by an informally assembled chorus of orientation student assistants.
Singing at orientation was a great opportunity for me to put a face to alumni relations and connect with a lot of generations, to be able to walk around campus and see some of these students, and have them recognize me from participating in their all-important introduction to the University at Buffalo.
An accomplished professional musician, Graham G. Stewart has performed more than 30 lead roles in opera and musical theater. He also plays trombone, sings jazz and has won international acclaim for his whistling.
To hear Graham Stewart sing the alma mater, go to www.buffalo.edu/UBT/26-1/alma_mater. For recordings, lyrics and song sheets for both old and new versions of the alma mater, visit the University Archives.