Tag Archives: No Strings Attached

Alma Mater, the coda

When last we heard of the Emory Alma Mater in this space, it had been sung at Commencement in 1977 and then ignored during the presidency of Jim Laney, who thought it was too hackneyed for a great university.

In 1990, at the urging of then-Secretary of the University Tom Bertrand, Laney tried to persuade the Emory poet and medical professor John Stone to pen a new Alma Mater. Laney even pointed to possible composers on the faculty, including Carlton “Sam” Young, who edited two Methodist hymnals, and Don Saliers, a gifted musician in his own right as well as father of Indigo Girl Emily Saliers 85C. A well-regarded poet (who would later turn out a splendid commissioned poem for the inauguration of President Jim Wagner, in 2004), Stone either declined or failed to produce the desired new work.

Alma Mater -- Stone letter

So the song lay dormant for a time, sung occasionally at alumni gatherings but not by students, who largely were unaware of it.

Enter Jason Hardy 95C. With a voice that would carry him to musical theater and opera after graduation, Hardy the undergraduate gathered around him some other talented male singers and founded Emory’s first a cappella singing group, No Strings Attached. They performed together for the first time in 1994. Looking for a possible signature song, Jason dug into Emory’s choral music library and found something surprising. Emory had an alma mater!

By that time I was serving as secretary of the university, and Jason approached me about his find. Would there be any objection to the group singing it? Was there a problem with “Dixie”?

In those days the campus staff and faculty newspaper, Emory Report, published a weekly informal readers’ poll, so I suggested that the editor pose the question to the campus.

Alma Mater survey in Emory Report
A random survey in Emory Report, 1995.

With indifference from some, tacit permission from many, and objections by a few, Jason and I changed “In the heart of dear old Dixie” to “In the heart of dear old Emory,” and the words have remained that way ever since. No Strings Attached created its own crowd-pleasing arrangement with an upbeat and syncopated second verse featuring a tenor wail on the lines “crowned with love and cheer” and “We will ever sing thy praises.”

In 1999 we incorporated the Alma Mater–along with a bit of magic–into the opening convocation for first-year students. It turned out that for years, Ron Johnson, now professor emeritus of chemistry, had been demonstrating a cool chemical reaction while singing the Alma Mater to his classes. As he began the last line, he’d mix two clear liquids into a large beaker. Just as he hit the phrase “Hail the Gold . . . ” the mixture would turn bright yellow, and then suddenly, as he sang “and Blue,” pop!—the gold turned to blue!

We’ve presented that trick to the freshmen every year since.

Alma Mater Tracy Morkin
Dr. Tracy Morkin, senior lecturer in chemistry: “Hail the Gold and Blue.”

 

In 2005 our chief Commencement planner, Michael Kloss, executive director of the Office of University Events, suggested reintroducing the Alma Mater to the Commencement ceremony. And there it remains–probably forever.

No STrings Attached seniors, 2014
Graduating members of No Strings Attached in 2014 sing the Alma Mater: (from left) David Shortell, Benito Thompson, Yedoye Opigo Travis, Collin Shepard and Fei Gao

 

Gary Hauk

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Alma Mater, second verse

J. Marvin Rast 18C 29T earned his place among the 175 “Makers of Emory History” by composing the Emory Alma Mater in the spring of his senior year. The newly formed Glee Club gave the song its premiere at a concert at Covington High School, then road-tested it on tour to shake out any bugs before Commencement. It withstood the test, but a few bugs remained.

For one thing, within a few years the line “loyal sons and true” would leave out a sizeable number of “daughters.” The year before Rast’s creation, Eléonore Raoul had enrolled in the law school, the first female student in the university’s history and the harbinger of what would become a growing distaff proportion of the student body.

 

Raoul
Eléonore Raoul — not one of the “loyal sons and true.”

In fact by 1945 the line had become embarrassing, as women were graduating from every school of the university. That year the Commencement program for the college and the graduate school included the Alma Mater with the original line. Perhaps because of complaints from graduating female students, two weeks later, on June 16, the line had been changed for the Commencement ceremony for medical school grads and those finishing the Navy’s V-12 program. The line now read, “sons and daughters true”– allegedly by fiat from the university president, who was Goodrich White ’08.

Alma Mater 1981
Alma Mater with chorus as revised in 1945

 

Things became more complicated still. Later in life Rast, who became a Methodist minister after graduation, recounted that in 1960 he was seated at a conference with an Emory alumna who surprised him by questioning the first line of the Alma Mater. In the wake of the civil rights movement, she asked, would he begin the same –“in the heart of dear old Dixie”?

In 1976 (having thought about it a long time!), Rast wrote to the alumni secretary, Walt Davis 34C, to suggest a change in the first two lines. How about something less regional and more high-falutin’?

Rast suggested: Where thy classic halls of learning/ Gleam ’mid oak and pine. He also threw in an additional stanza.

Alma Mater 1976Further correspondence ensued, and by 1981 the suggested changes had made their way to the University Committee on Academic Ceremonies. This august body was chaired by medieval historian George Peddy Cuttino, Oxonian, who, before retiring in 1984, left an indelible stamp on the ceremonies and heraldry of Emory. His committee rejected the proposed changes.

Commencement on June 2, 1977, was the last Commencement graced by the Alma Mater for more than a quarter of a century. In November 1977 James Laney was inaugurated as the university’s president, and, no fan of the Alma Mater, he had it deleted from Commencement programs during his presidency (1977-93).

“I didn’t think it was worthy of a great university,” Laney remarked to an Emory Wheel reporter decades later. “It was cliché.”

The song’s absence from Commencement continued for more than another decade after the end of Laney’s presidency. But in the meantime it would find a revival through the curiosity of a new a cappella group — No Strings Attached.

More about that revival next time.

Gary Hauk

Thanks to Melissa Cheung o4C o6PH, former senior editor of the “Emory Wheel,” whose article in the February 10, 2004, issue of the paper includes the quotation from Jim Laney and the story of Marvin Rast’s encounter at the Methodist conference.