Music in the Halls of Ivy

Our formal education begins with a song: “a, b, c, d, e, f, g; h, i, j, k, lmnop …” And so it is that learning and song form a connection that endures for eighteen or twenty years. The education process is enhanced by school songs: songs that inspire, songs that call forth loyalty and probably more importantly, songs that build memories that keep the loyalty and the inspiration alive long after the school books are finally closed and the mortar boards are tossed. I often recall the songs I knew at each of the institutions I attended and it is the songs that keep me tied emotionally to these places that were important to me in the past.

My high school, Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, didn’t have a song in the traditional sense, although I’m sure that the institution does now. It has expanded and become a formidable campus. During my years there it was a classroom building, two dormitories, the president’s home and a cottage where the dean lived. We had a football team and that necessitated a fight song:

When all the Oak Hill Students fall in line,
We’ll have a band of students great and fine,
For all the Oak Hill students have the pep,
We’re going to win the victory step by step by step,
We’re going to fight, fight, fight through every day,
We’re going to study hard and work and play,
For we are Oak Hill students every day, all the way,

My next school, Bluefield College, Bluefield, Virginia, is located on a hill facing East River Mountain. The state line between Virginia and West Virginia is at the bottom of the hill. When I was there, a drive-in fast food place called Ward’s was just over the West Virginia line. Students often hung out there. I sometimes went there for coffee with Johnson Reynolds after the Thursday night Prayer Meeting.

It was appropriate that the mountain formed the basis of our school song because it defined who we were and set our moods. The song was written while I was a student there by the history professor, Dr. James Zambus, who was a favorite of the students. His orderly office, in which he grew African Violets, was always open to students. He was a handsome, single man of Greek descent with dark hair and eyes. He had a loping sort of walk, and for that reason he was often referred to by students as the “Galloping Greek.” His song was set to music by Mrs. Jerrell, the music teacher and choral director.

In Virginia where the mountains lift their peaks so bold and high,
There stands our Alma Mater dear, and for her fame we vie.
We hail thee, Bluefield College, your red, your blue, your white,
Ever serving God and country, walking in thy holy light.

The two Virginias they greet fame as they meet,
Old Dominion and her daughter, in sweet peace at thy feet.
We hail thee, Bluefield College, your red, your blue, your white,
Ever serving God and country, walking in thy holy light.

My last two years of college were spent at Westhampton College. This was the women’s division of the University of Richmond, separated from the men’s counterpart, Richmond College, by a lake. The campus was spacious and beautiful. The Cannon Chapel sat on a knoll facing the lake near the campus entrance. It was a commanding building with a circular stained glass window over the ornate double doors. There were two dormitories, the classic North Court, and the modern South Court. Freshmen, Sophomores and transfers lived in North Court. Westhampton was steeped in tradition and so it was mandatory that everyone experience living in the original dorm.

Keller Hall was across the green from North Court. Music classes were there, as well as the alumnae office, the gym and some rooms large enough to hold small assemblies. This building was named for the former Dean who lived in a small cottage in the woods near the chapel. She often walked her two dogs about the campus and by the lake. My work scholarship involved working in the alumnae office. It was a rather boring job, clipping and filing information on former students, but it carried an advantage as well. As I worked, I could hear the music students practicing. That’s how this country girl was introduced to the music of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and others that I had only read about.

Classrooms were in the basement of South Court, connected to North Court by a breezeway aptly covered with ivy. The unique beauty of the campus was reflected in the Alma Mater song which all of Westhampton’s citizens were required to memorize. I learned it the summer before enrolling in the fall.

Hail, Alma Mater, sunset crowned,
       upon the hilltop proudly stand,
While hill and vale your praises sound,
       and waters still reflect the land.
Westhampton, wondrous mother, true;
Westhampton wondrous mother true,
Hear as we sing for aye, our God bless you;
Hear as we sing for aye our God bless you.

Hail Alma Mater joy of youth,
       our guide upon the path of truth.
How oft we falter on our way,
       but ever thou wilt hear our lay.
Westhampton, wondrous mother, true;
Westhampton wondrous mother true,
Hear as we sing for aye, our God bless you;
Hear as we sing for aye our God bless you.

Near the end of January each year a song festival was held in the gym in Keller Hall. Participation was mandatory. During the month, classes met frequently to learn and practice several songs that were selected annually from the “Westhampton Alma Mater Song Book.” Recognition was given to the class with the best performance. Each class also wrote and performed an original song. A faculty team judged the songs and the winning selection was added to the Westhampton Song Book. My class won the year I was a Junior. The song, written by one of the class’s music students, was to the tune of Chopin’s Etude Opus 10, #3, “Chanson de l’adieu.”

Hear now the song we raise to thee,
Of pride and praise
And promise of our love and loyalty.

O the joy the friendship and the fun we share
In college days at W.C.!

No other place such spirit gives,
For thou hast taught thy daughters well
To laugh and love and live.

We will strive from day to day
To honor thee in every way,
And though we leave thy cherished halls some day
We’ll think of thee
In fondest memory,
And from thy teachings never stray.

Among the traditions at Westhampton was the way dinner was served. We were expected to come into the dining room each evening dressed appropriately: skirt and blouse or sweater, and proper footwear. We were assigned places which changed every week and a student hostess presided over the meal. As we entered, we stood behind our chairs until everyone was in place and then we sang a blessing to the tune of “O Master, let Me Walk with Thee:”

We thank you, Lord, for daily bread,
As by Thy grace our souls are fed;
Help us to grow more like to Thee,
This day and through eternity.

One of the traditions we adhered to seemed a bit juvenile to me at the time; nevertheless, I now value the memory. Each year the Juniors were assigned “little sisters” from the incoming Freshman class. Mine was a sweet little Chinese girl from New York City. We were to be mentors to our little sisters for two years. At the end of the second year, the little sisters honored us, the Seniors, with a Daisy Chain Ceremony. The daisies were gathered from the fields surrounding the campus. That tradition probably faded into oblivion within a few years of my departure as the small village of Westhampton fell into the hands of developers. But while it was still in existence, the Sophomores wove the daisies into a chain and at a ceremony following the Thursday Convocation, the upcoming Seniors and their little sisters gathered on the lawn between the chapel and Keller Hall. We formed a large circle, each student holding onto the chain, and we sang the Alma Mater song, followed by the familiar:

Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky’s so blue,
And I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the stars to shine,
Because God made the ivy twine,
Because God made the sky so blue,
Because God made you, that’s why I love you.

It seemed to me that school spirit and tradition at Westhampton were valued as much as academics. Recently, Westhampton and Richmond College were combined. It is hard for me to believe that the “powers that be” were able to bring about that merger, thus virtually doing away with all the traditions that were so important for so many decades. Times change, and eventually things that have long been valued are cast aside for something new. Maybe in this change the education was improved, although I really doubt it. What I don’t doubt is that those who attend the University now are missing out on what was once fundamental: a sense of belonging to a family that spanned generations and passed on a set of values that helped each girl develop into what Dean Keller often referred to as a “Westhampton lady.”

When I hear Chopin’s Opus 10, #3 my mind instantly recalls the words to our song and brings back memories of the school and the girls that were a part of my life there. Occasionally I recall bits of the tunes of the other school songs, and I recall the life of the institutions that were important to me in my developing years. I remember the songs. Maybe I could remember Trigonometry if it had been put to music!

March, 2007