What’s in a song? The many melodies of FSU

Continuing with tradition, the University Recreation Association continued to distribute song books after the transition to FSU.
Continuing with tradition, the University Recreation Association continued to distribute song books after the transition to FSU.

If you’ve ever attended orientation at Florida State, most likely you learned the words to the fight song (or at least how to spell F-L-O-R-I-D-A S-T-A-T-E), and probably heard the Alma Mater and “The Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold” two, maybe three or four times each. You can also hear these songs at football games, graduation ceremonies, concerts, and as the tinny and garbled hold-music while waiting to get through to financial aid. These pervasive melodies and chants are just a few among a long tradition of campus songs at Florida State.

Universities all over America have their own campus songs, written to spread school spirit or wax poetic about campus traditions. Often, though, school songs develop from chants meant to trash talk competitors. Our predecessor institution FSCW was no exception – the intracollegiate competition between the Odd and Even classes produced some pretty snarky verses. One such song, an Even anthem, skewers the Odds:

The FSCW Music Club edited the book with “the hope that this material may help toward a real renaissance of information college singing on campus.” This is the first collection of Florida State songs.
The bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For the Odds and not for us,
Up where the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling,
That’s where you will find us.
“The Bells of Hell”
The Odds weren’t going to just take that, however:
Go easy, Odd team,
‘Cause we don’t want to kill ’em quite.
We’re out to beat ’em.
So holler for the Red and White.
That Even team is mighty slow
Because they fear the Odd team so.
Go easy, Odd team,
‘Cause we don’t want to kill ’em quite.
“Go Easy, Odd Team”
The Florida Flambeau made appeals for the University to adopt an alma mater.
The Florida Flambeau made appeals for the University to adopt an alma mater.

After FSCW became co-educational in 1947, the school needed some new songs, specifically an alma mater. On May 16th, 1947, The Florida Flambeau announced a contest to select a new alma mater, and on November 21st, it was announced that Johnny Lawrence had won with his song “High O’er the Towering Pines.” While the song had been selected and performed at convocation and homecoming, the university dragged its heels to adopt the song. Flambeau writers appealed to the administration to make a decision, but were rebuffed by Dean of Music, Karl O. Kuersteiner: “[Choosing] an alma mater is like choosing a wife and that it demands much consideration.” Finally in 1949, two full years after the original alma mater contest announcement, the university officially announced “High O’er the Towering Pines” as the alma mater.

A blurb about the first time the “Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold” was performed at FSU

A little over a year later, a phenomenon happened: “The Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold” was premiered at the 1950 Homecoming by The Collegians (men’s glee club). Written by J. Dayton Smith for SATB choir, the song blew up. Women in their dorms were being serenaded with The Hymn and it was often sung at campus events. Eventually, the song was arranged by Charlie Carter for FSU Marching Chiefs in 1958 and captured the hearts of Seminole fans. FSU alum and friend of Heritage Protocol Paul Ort recounts the time when he committed a little petty theft to get a hold of a copy of The Hymn: “I still remember how guilty I felt when I hooked that copy of the SATB music from a University Singers folio while the choral rehearsal room was empty. But Carter had to have something to start with…”

Since then, there have been several other songs that have developed and shaped the identity of FSU: The Fight Song, written by Doug Alley and Dr. Thomas Wright, and the Warchant, a tradition that has one of FSU’s most disputed origin stories. Campus songs are still written today, in musical styles that are popular with modern students. A few years ago, FSU premiered “I’m in the Doak,” a parody of the Saturday Night Live sketch “I’m on a Boat” featuring famous former-Tallahassee denizen, T-Pain. More recently, FSU student Daniel Stamphil a.k.a. Blak Iron, released a remake of the Drake track “Know Yourself,” titled “Nole Yourself.” While these tracks herald a new era of campus songs, they will always echo FSU.

About Hannah Wiatt Davis

Hannah Wiatt Davis is the Archives Assistant for the FSU Heritage Protocol & University Archives. She received her MLIS from FSU in August, 2014.

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