Release Date: May 28, 2008
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "Where once Indians trod the silent wood/ Above the beach where antler'd deer have stood/ Where martyrs brought the faith and patriot swords/ Assembled oft to repel invading hordes..."
At the turn of the last century, the University at Buffalo's "Alma Mater Song" swelled the hearts of the convocation by exalting the antler'd zeitgeist of the era.
But it is just one of the scores of songs written for and about UB by faculty members, students and well-known local and national composers over the past century.
Many of them are showcased in "University School Songs: 1903-2008," a new exhibit mounted by the UB Music Library in Baird Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.
The show is co-curated by Jason Imbesi and Molly O'Brien, graduate students in the Department of Information and Library Studies, and aims to reacquaint the university with the compositions themselves and those who wrote and performed them.
It is running in the library through Jan. 15, 2009, and an abbreviated version can be found online at http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/units/music/exhibits/index.html.
The exhibit includes photos, stories and lyrics and sheet music for original songs and parodies composed and performed to celebrate such things as fundraising campaigns, football games and the pharmacy school ("I sought a druggist in our town/BUFFALO/ my cough to cure with medicine brown/BUFFALO…").
There are copies of university songbooks from years when students were issued such items and expected to learn the songs for public performance at sporting events, commencement exercises or just because they loved the dear old School of Social Work.
The show gives the uninitiated a glimpse into the mid-20th century contest over which should be the definitive UB fight song -- Music Professor Robert Mols' "Victory March" or "Buffalo Fight Song," which Vice Chancellor Edwin Cale had commissioned from Meredith Willson (who wrote the Broadway hit, "The Music Man").
After the public contest, the exhibition tells us that The Spectrum, UB's student newspaper, reported Mols' song to be easier to sing and possessed of "true Buffalo fight song caliber," while Willson's song could only be performed well by professional musicians. In fact, the barbershop quartet The Buffalo Bills recorded the song with the Arthur Godfrey Band and the records were sold at UB football games. (Download that to your iPod!)
You also can see in the exhibit and online photos of composers and lyricists like Walter S. Goodale and Samuel B. Botsford, who wrote the "Alma Mater Song" (quoted above) in 1903. The hearty songsters also established the university's Glee Club and Mandolin Club (mandolin being a very popular amateur and professional instrument of the time), which they maintained and in which they performed until 1907.
The "Alma Mater Song" was arranged for the UB Glee Club in 1905, and much later, rearranged for instrumental performance by local composer Herman E. Schultz and composer, pianist and arranger Livingston Gearhart, a member of the UB music faculty from 1955 to 1985. A performance of Gearhart's arrangement is held in the Music Library on an LP that also contains additional UB marching band favorites.
Linger long enough online, and a visitor might zip back through the decades to and find himself unable to get the melody of "Fight for your dear old Bulls…" out of his head, or find herself beating an endless tattoo of Walter Boehm's "U. of B. Forever March" on her keyboard.
The exhibit's earliest offerings recall the era before world wars and the federal income tax, when a bold two line-header above the fold in the Buffalo Courier (albeit on page 68) could announce to an apparently interested public, "Two New Songs To Be Heard For the First Time at the University at Buffalo Theater Party Next Tuesday."
The exhibit reminds us as well that historic compositions sometime boil up out of the musical past to serenade contemporary audiences.
In 2006, UB students paid tribute to Livingston Gearhart's mid-century arrangement of Goodale and Botsford's "Alma Mater" by updating the lyrics (they eliminated the intriguing references to marching Saxons and "invading hordes") and singing it at the 2007 commencement exercises; the lyrics are available at http://www.eng.buffalo.edu/Commencement/ub_alma_mater.pdf.
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