Alma Mater

I confess that I’ve never liked Reinhardt’s alma mater. Here are the lyrics (sung to the tune of Annie Lisle, like the alma maters of any number of other colleges in the land):

1. Far up in the mountains azure
Blest by ideals true,
With influence most inspiring,
Reinhardt we love you.

Chorus
We will praise thee, ever praise thee,
Be always sincere;
We’ll uphold thy purpose high
Alma mater dear.

2. In thy splendor stand forever,
Spread thy fame afar;
Give to all a helping hand,
Be our guiding star.

Chorus

3. In our memory cherished ever,
We will loyal be;
May each year bring forth more honor,
Is our hope for thee.

Chorus

What’s wrong with this? Many things:

1. “Mountains azure” – the “poetic” inversion of placing the adjective after the noun (and choosing the archaic word “azure” over plain old “blue”) is precious. Besides, we’re not even in the mountains!

2. “Blest by ideals true” – more of the same archaism (“blest”) and inversion – and can one have “true” ideals? High ideals or noble ideals, maybe, but what is a “true” ideal? And is one ever “blessed” by an ideal? You actively choose your ideals and you hold them firmly, but no one provides them for you, as the word “blest” implies.

3. “Influence” does not work with the tune – you have to pronounce it “inFLUence” as you sing it – and can influence be “inspiring”?! Influence can be deep, powerful or significant, but when was the last time you were “most inspired” (or even just “inspired”) by someone’s influence?

4. “You/thee” – why the shift from “we love you” to “we will praise thee”? If you must use archaisms, then at least be consistent.

5. “Be always sincere” – I suppose that this line follows from the previous one, as though it says in prose, “We will praise thee, and [we will] always be sincere.” But it sounds like an exhortation to Reinhardt to be sincere. I think this line could be better written.

6. “Purpose high” – more inversion, and while one can certainly have a high purpose, scansion is a problem here: you have to sing “hi-igh” to have the word match the tune.

7. In the second stanza, there is a reference to a “helping hand” (“ha-and”) followed by one to a “guiding star.” These images do not clash but they probably comprise a mixed metaphor (and are somewhat clichéd anyway). Why not pick one image and sustain it for two lines?

8. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the third stanza but the first line does form a dangling modifier. With it we ostensibly tell Reinhardt that it will be cherished in our memory, and that we will be loyal, but grammatically it says that we will be loyal in our memory, i.e. we will remember being loyal, although we may no longer be loyal.

Finally, and in addition to everything else, the whole thing is rather tepid. Apart from the metaphoric “hand” and “star” in the second stanza, the only concrete image in the whole composition is “mountains” in the first line, and as noted above it is inapt. Otherwise the song is entirely abstract. Compare it with the first stanza of another college’s alma mater that I happen to know:

Dear Old Dartmouth give a rouse
For the College on the hill
For the lone pine above her
And the loyal ones who love her
Give a rouse, give a rouse, with a will!
For the sons of old Dartmouth,
And the daughters of Dartmouth
Though ’round the girdled earth they roam
Her spell on them remains
They have the still north in their hearts
The hill winds in their veins
And the granite of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains.

Everyone always chuckled the first time they heard that Dartmothians have granite in their brains, but apart from that image this song works in a way that Reinhardt’s simply does not. For one, the tune is unique (and sounds pretty good, too), and fits the lyrics. For two, the images are appropriate: Dartmouth really is on a hill, really is in New Hampshire, and really did have a lone pine above her. The “still north” and the “hill winds” are also appropriate. “Girdled earth” might be an archaism, or at least eccentric, but I say it works here.

If Reinhardt can change from being an academy to a college to a university, or change its marketing slogan every three years or so (Challenge and Care > The Way College Should Be > Building Lives, Shaping Futures), then why can’t we unveil a new alma mater for next year’s graduation? Of course I don’t know anything about lyrical or musical composition, but I should think that someone around here does. Leap to it, new creative writing program and award-winning music program! Let’s see what you’ve got in your brains.