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Alma Mater


Of all the alma mater tunes I've heard Denison High School's my favorite.  A bold presentation by the band, usually associated with a sports event, is what I remember from high school. However, I'm really taken with this presentation of the melody accompanied by a slideshow of astounding natural beauty.  The soft sweetness of this rendition allows me to contemplate on memories of times past.  You might enjoy listening as you continue reading about from whence it came.  



Hail to thee our Alma Mater,

School we love so dear.

With our friends and fellow comrades

We spend our happy years.

Though we leave we'll always cherish

Memories old and new.

Hail to thee our Denison High School

We are all for you.

Not having any deep thoughts of these things while a young lady, I always believed that our Alma Mater was OUR school song, born and bred in Denison, Texas.  The older and more exposed to the world I became it was clear I was quite provincial in my understanding of school traditions - nothing new under the sun came to have meaning!  I didn't have to get far from home to find this tune was not unique to my high school, and in fact, has been used by many schools and universities as their anthem as well as by the entertainment industry to suggest a connection to an educational institution.  You might find, as I did, the following facts interesting.  

This tune is an 1857 ballad, "Annie Lisle", by H.S. Thompson from Boston, Mass.  It is, sadly, about the death of a young maiden.  The song might have slipped into obscurity had the tune not been so readily adaptable.  Around 1870 two students at Cornell University, which happens to lie far above Cayuga Lake's waters,  used the tune to compose Cornell's alma mater, "Far Above Cayuga's Waters".  Those two young men started something big.

Over the years it's been used as the alma mater tune at a number of high schools and universities worldwide.  Other than Cornell, they include the College of William & Mary, University of Alabama, Vanderbilt University, Centenary College, Howard Payne University (in Brownwood, Texas and, interestingly, has a Yellow Jacket mascot), Colorado State University, the American University of Beirut, the Chinese High School of Singapore, and many, many more.  Some changed a few words, but some, like Denison, re-wrote the words to express local sentiment.     

It was also the tune of Springfield College on the TV show Father Knows Best, was used in the parting song for the Kellerman Resort in Dirty Dancing (remember that?), was sung by the Purdue University students in the 1953 film Titanic and as the melody for the alma mater song of Anarene High School in The Last Picture Show (as you'll also remember, a story of teenage angst in a Texas high school).  

All that said, Cornell typically gets the credit but H.S. Thompson did the work.  And beautiful work it was. 

This lovely tune brings back, to me, lovely memories.  I hope it does the same for you.

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