College Songs and Songbooks | The Canadian Encyclopedia


College Songs and Songbooks

North American college and university songs tend to be associated with a specific institution, unlike traditional student songs such as 'Gaudeamus igitur' and 'Integer vitae.

College Songs and Songbooks

North American college and university songs tend to be associated with a specific institution, unlike traditional student songs such as 'Gaudeamus igitur' and 'Integer vitae.' The main purpose of the college song is to foster a sense of cohesion and identity among various social groups within the university, especially the class and the fraternity. The most common genre is the alma mater song, in which the university is personified and revered through maternal symbolism. These songs are solemn and hymn-like, and are often designated as 'official.' Parting songs or class day songs recall the events of student life and commemorate graduation. Despite the specific references to places and events, these songs are often borrowed and adapted to local customs. College songs are sung at official university events (eg, convocation) and at informal occasions (eg, orientation activities and sporting events). Most Canadian universities have at least one official college song, and many more unofficial songs, the more successful of which are recorded in manuscript and in university publications, such as newspapers, yearbooks, and convocation programs.

College Songbooks

Around the turn of the 20th century, several universities published collections of college songs. College songbooks had a wide circulation both inside the university and in the surrounding community; therefore, they reflect the singing traditions of the university, as well as the popular repertoire of their day. Over 30 college songbooks survive from at least 10 universities across Canada. The core repertoire is found in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, dating from 1879 to 1928. The US college song tradition had a strong impact on the anglophone Canadian college song. Yale and Harvard songbooks as well as the pan-collegiate Carmina Collegensia (1868) were models for Canadian collections. Francophone universities do not seem to have produced any college songbooks.

Canadian songbooks, published by and for university students, ranged in format from pamphlets containing words only to substantial volumes of printed music arranged either for four-voice ensemble or for solo voice with piano accompaniment. The songbook repertoire includes traditional student songs, college songs, popular and folk songs, and original songs. While English predominates, the song texts are in a range of languages including French, German, Latin, and a number of dialects (usually employed for purposes of satire).

Glee clubs, which sang popular, folk, and college songs, were sometimes publishers of college songbooks. Their repertoire may account for the large number of popular and folk songs found in the songbooks. The earliest songbook, A Pocket Song Book for the Use of the Students and Graduates of McGill College, exhibits the typical diversity of songs found in these songbooks. It is also notable for containing the earliest printed version of 'Alouette,' and an original college song, 'A Health to Old McGill,' music composed by Mrs W.C. Baynes. The earliest known Canadian college song, music composed by Maud Cronyn, is 'Farewell, Loved Teachers' (1859) from Mount Allison Ladies Seminary, now Mount Allison University.

Women and Minority Groups

As noted above, some Canadian college songs were composed by women. The importance of women in the composition of Canadian college songs is exceptional compared to the US tradition. College songs in both countries were closely associated with male groups, including fraternities and male glee clubs. Women in Canada usually contributed to the college song tradition through their own colleges and musical groups.

Women are often portrayed in college songs in stereotypical patterns, as are members of minority racial groups. This was perhaps a result of the affirmation of the exclusive university group (white, affluent men). Racist songs usually employ dialect, imitating accents in a derogatory fashion. Among those groups targeted are Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, Chinese, and, especially, African North Americans. (Some of these songs were borrowed from US songbooks.) 'Darkie songs' were probably stimulated by the minstrel craze, and sustained by the banjo and mandolin clubs, which were often linked to glee clubs.

Pre-existent and Composed Tunes

College songs were most often composed as contrafacta, setting new words to a pre-existent tune. Certain tunes (eg, 'Annie Lisle') were used repeatedly, as were national anthems. The contrafacta technique enabled amateurs to participate in song composition, and aided the function of parody in that some songs were humorous or satirical because of the prior association of tune and/or text.

In addition to this tradition, many Canadian college songs had original music as noted above. Two glee club presidents, James Edmund Jones (University of Toronto) and Harold Eustace Key (McGill University) composed songs, the former contributing 16 in all. Roy Wheeler composed college songs while studying music at Mount Allison University. Song competitions also stimulated compositions by those outside the university. H.H. Godfrey's 'Toronto, or the Pride of the North' is a successful example. It was subsequently adapted by Acadia University and Dalhousie University.

Recent song competitions have usually solicited words only and songbooks are no longer published; however, interest in reviving the college song has been shown at several universities and singing continues to play a role in both official and informal contexts.

The 1974 recording Canadian University Songs (Robert Dicknoether, baritone; John Coveart, piano; Ard Records ASLP 51) features songs from Waterloo, Dalhousie, McGill, Guelph, Acadia and several other universities.

College Songbooks And Songs

Acadia University
Acadia University Songs [Wolfville, NS 1912]

Songs of Acadia College (cover reads Acadia College Song Book) (Wolfville, NS 1902-3, 1907)

Songs: 'Acadia Centennial Song' (1938), Marietta Silver (words), Basil C. Silver (music); 'The Acadia Clan Song,' Charles W. Williams (words), Lila P. Williams (music); 'Alma Mater - Acadia,' L.D. Cox (words), tune 'Massa's in the cold ground'; 'Alma Mater Acadia' (1938), J.H. MacDonald (words), tune 'Gott, erhalte Franz den Kaiser' (Haydn); 'Alma Mater Song,' tune 'Annie Lisle'.

Bishop's University
Fellowship Songs (Lennoxville, Que 1928)

Songs: 'Alma Mater,' Rev Sidney Mead (words), tune German folksong adapted by Mead; 'Bishop's University Marching Song,' Phil Townsend and/or John Mortland (words), John Piper (music).

Dalhousie University
Carmina Dalhousiana (Halifax 1882)

Dalhousie Songs ([Halifax] 1913, 1921)

Dalhousie University Song-book, compiled by Charles B. Weikel [Halifax 1904]

McGill University
The McGill College Song Book, compiled by a committee of graduates and undergraduates (Montreal 1885)

The McGill University Song Book, compiled by a committee of graduates and undergraduates (Montreal 1896, 1921)

A Pocket Song Book for the Use of the Students and Graduates of McGill College (Montreal 1879)

Songs: 'Alma Mater McGill,' J. McDougall (words); 'L'Enfant du McGill,' Louis-Honoré Fréchette (words), Guillaume Couture (music); 'God Save McGill,' W.M. Mackeracher (words), tune 'God Save the Queen'; 'A Health to Old McGill,' R.W. Huntingdon (words), Mrs W.C. Baynes (music); 'McGill,' C.W. Colby (words), tune 'The Gay Cavalier'; 'McGill Revisited,' John Cox (words), tune a) German air, b) original; 'McGill Students' (Student's) Song,' W.N. Evans (words); 'The Student of McGill,' R.D. McGibbon (words).

Mount Allison University
Mount Allison Songs (Sackville, NB 1908)

Mount Allison Songs, rev by William B. Perry (Toronto 1926)

Queen's University
Queen's Song Book (Toronto [1955])

Queen's University Song Book (Toronto 1903)

Songs: 'Queen's College Colours' (1897) also known as 'Our University Yell' and 'Oil Thigh,' A.E. Lavell (words), tune 'John Brown's Body'

University of British Columbia
Students' Song Book of the University of British Columbia (Vancouver 1918-19), text only

Students' Song Book of the University of British Columbia ([Vancouver?] 1925-26), text only

U.B.C. Song Book (Vancouver 1948)

Songs: 'Hail, U.B.C'. Harold King (words and music); 'High on Olympus' D.C. Morton (words), J.C.F. Haeffner (music).

University of New Brunswick
Carmina Universitatis Novi Brunsvici (Fredericton 1881, 1886, 1898, 1904, 1912)

Carmina Universitas Novi Brunsvici (Fredericton 1921, 1926)

Songs: 'Alma Mater' (1904); 'UNB Anthem,' A.G. Bailey (words), D.V. Start (music).

University of Saskatchewan
Songbook U[niversity] of S[askatchewan] ([Saskatoon] 1927?], text only

University of Toronto
New Songs of the University of Toronto (Toronto 1899, 2nd edn no date)

The University of Toronto Song Book (Toronto 1887, 2nd edn 1918, rev and enlarged by James Edmund Jones)

Songs: 'The Blue and White,' Rev Claris E. Silcox (words), Clayton E. Bush (music), rev 1990: Madge Shaw Hermant and J.P.N. Hume (words), John Beckwith (music); 'Honour Old Varsity,' E.C. Acheson (words), tune, Norwegian national anthem; 'Hurrah! for the Blue and White,' G.W. Ross (words), Elmer H. Smith (music); 'Varsity,' A.E. Wickens (?words and music).

Other College Songs

Royal Military College of Canada
"Can You Tell Me the Reason Why?" (published 1894), B.H.O. Armstrong (words), A.H.N. Kennedy (music)

"Precision," (1932), Denise Chabot (music); orchestrated for band by Capt F.W. Coleman

Ryerson Polytechnical Institute
'The School Song' (ca 1950), Rennie Charles (words), Al Sauro (music)

University of Alberta
'Alberta' (1920?), Emma Newton (words and music); 'Alberta Cheer Song' (rev as 'Alberta'), R.K. Michael (words), Chester Lambertson (music); 'The Evergreen and Gold' (1915?), William H. Alexander (words), tune, Russia national anthem; 'Quaecumque vera,' Ewart W. Stutchbury (words and music).

University of Manitoba
'The Brown and the Gold' (ca. 1934), Charles McCulloch (words), W.J. MacDonald (music)

University of Waterloo
'The Black and White and Gold,' K.D. Fryer and H.F. Davis (words), Alfred Kunz (music).

University of Western Ontario
'Western University Song,' Margaret Ovens (words).

McMaster University
'The Alma Mater Song' (1935), Mrs A.A. Burridge (words), Hugh Brearly (music); 'The McMaster March,' Claire Senior Burke et al (words), Arthur Burridge (music); 'My Mac' (1982), Fred Moyes (words and music).

York University
'York Song,' tune 'Harvard'

Further Reading