A Puget Sound songbook: 100 years of singing the university's praises

By Sandra Sarr

A song has a way of transporting us back in time—hear a few bars of an old melody and long-lost details of people and places we knew come sharply into focus. Think quick: Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Neil Young’s “ Sugar Mountain.” Or how about “Spoonman” by Soundgarden. Are you cruising Five Mile Drive at the Point? Jitterbugging in the gym? Sitting under the sequoia outside the SUB? On tour with the Adelphians? A song can initiate people to a culture, create a bond, and evoke a shared experience.

The college by the silver sea has inspired a number of songs, the Glee Club quite prolific in its creations. The 1916 Constitution, a book of songs and yells published by the Associated Students of the College of Puget Sound, contains no fewer than nine tunes, featuring titles like “The Jolly Student,” “A Fine Old School” (set to the tune “My Merry Oldsmobile”), and “Boola, Boola,” which was composed in 1900 by Yale alumnus Allan M. Hirsh, who said the “athletic” song was adopted by many colleges.

Puget Sound’s W.D. Boyde, a student from 1910-11, put his own words to the music of Gertrude Hollingworth ’10, winning a prize for “Our University” from “Dr. Zeller who offered us $20 for the best college song lyrics. He left Puget Sound shortly afterward and the song was never used.”

Alma Mater for the ages
Puget Sound ’s best known song has endured through bebop, doo wop, and hip-hop. Composed in the early 1920s by Ellena Hart Goulder ’26, the Alma Mater (Latin for nourishing mother) links the generations. But, for a period from the early ’70s and into the ’90s, when posing for a yearbook photo, wearing maroon and white, and other displays of school spirit were regarded by many as a threat to individualism, students rarely learned the tune.

All that changed by the late 1990s. The value of tradition reemerged on American campuses, and singing a college’s praises no longer seemed unsophisticated or a compromise of one’s identity. At Puget Sound, a group of alumni and staff revived college traditions, arranging for the college’s signature song to be sung at ceremonies, games, and events. Staffers occasionally were heard breaking into song at meetings in public displays of Logger loyalty. And founding members of Underground Jazz at the college came up with a new arrangement for the Alma Mater and performed it at Commencement in 2000.

Retired music professor Margaret Myles, her contralto voice still strong at age 92, remembers a time when no special encouragement was needed.

“It’s a simple little chorus,” says Myles, who from the 1940s to the 1970s sang the Alma Mater solo at every Puget Sound Commencement.

“I sang it in a key anyone could sing. Everybody would get into the spirit of it,” she says, noting the Adelphian Concert Choir took over singing it in the 1970s.

In earlier years, so woven into the Puget Sound culture was the Puget Sound Alma Mater that the 1945-46 student handbook declared, “No entering student is a genuine part of the college until he has joined in the singing of Alma Mater. In victory or defeat the Alma Mater expresses the pride we always feel in our college.”

‘Where on the crest of blue waters, moonlight in splendor gleams’
The words to “ College of Dreams” appear in publications such as a CPS Log Book from the mid-’40s, in which new students are admonished to “learn the songs and yells now.”

Not one but two occasional collectors of Puget Sound memorabilia who work on campus, Professor of International Political Economy Mike Veseth ’72 and Associate Dean for Student Services Houston Dougharty ’83, independently and without knowledge that the other was doing so, bought copies of the sheet music reproduced above on eBay. The pages were taken from a 1938 book of college songs.

The author is H. Wilton Vincent ’36, a high school teacher and Methodist minister.

Music Professor Geoffrey Block gave Professor Veseth this information: “The song, a waltz, in a verse-chorus format, has an interesting obbligato melodic line above the tune that suggests turn-of-the-century barber shop harmonies (i.e., purposefully old-fashioned in 1938). The tune itself seems reminiscent or evokes Wagner’s popular “Evening Star” aria from Tannhäuser, which I find interesting because the UPS chimes plays this tune often.”

Rah! Rah! Rah
John O’Connor, director of Puget Sound’s 50-member concert band and 16-member marching band from 1946-50, adapted UCLA’s fight song for the Logger faithful. “I made a band arrangement out of it, and my wife Ermajean wrote the lyrics,” he says. “We performed the song at parades, Homecoming, and out-of-town events.” O’Connor launched the Varsity Show, a popular annual event showcasing the talents of faculty, staff, and students. “It was a lot of fun and a money maker for the college,” he remembers. O’Connor still plays trumpet at age 88.

‘Puget Sound,’ winner of the 1929 Annual Glee
This song was printed in the 1929 Tamanawas, along with the following text: “‘ Puget Sound,’ a waltz melody of simplicity and delicate harmony, won for the Senior class the honor of first place in the Annual Glee Contest. The music was composed by Mary Kizer, and the accompanying words by Frances Martin.

“Presented with a campfire scene as the setting, by Pauline Voelker, soloist, Mary Kizer, violinist, Elizabeth Jones and Vera Crail, assisting vocalists, it won due admiration from the other classes. The class of ’29 gathered as a whole around the campfire for the final chorus.

“The effect of the dimly lighted stage, faintly glowing embers, and enthusiastic chorus of Seniors was well received by the audience.

“The Junior song written by Douglas Babcock earned second place, and the Freshman song composed by Carlton Wood won third place. The Sophomore class did not enter a song.

“All of the songs were judged as to words, music, presentation, and the fact that they must be worthy to be used on a variety of occasions.

“For the last time, the class of ’29 has placed its numerals on the Annual Glee pennant.”