Friday, April 11, 2014

From Archives and Special Collections: Mount Holyoke's Annual Singing Competition!

Verse and song writing have long been popular exercises at Mount Holyoke. An Annual Competitive Sing was held in March or April for many years, encouraging classes and dormitories to compete against each other. In 1942, the program was revived by the Outing Club who hoped that singing would boost campus morale during wartime. This tradition appears to have lasted through the 1950s before being retired.
Program from March 6, 1928 at 7:30 pm in Chapin, Eleventh Annual Competitive Sing.
While we may not know many of the traditional songs that these students sang, their original compositions are vastly entertaining to this day. Many are sentimental reflections of their four years at Mount Holyoke, such as the winning song from Safford in 1942, “Chapel Bells”:

“When Chapel bells are ringing,
The chimes bring back to me
Fond memories we will cherish
Far beyond eternity.

As Freshmen you’ll discover Traditions firm and true,
And memories you will cherish
Your whole life through.

Sophomore year, you pledge yourself in song
To Holyoke with devotion ever strong.
With pride and comradeship you see,
The Juniors bound in love and unity.

But though as seniors we must part
The Chapel bells will ever ring
Within our heart.”

However, many of these songs seem to have been a chance to deliver some sarcasm and thinly veiled complaints against the school. Wilder’s entry from c.1950 laments the dreary life of a college student:

“Not much time to tell you of four years here,
I guess I’ll have to settle for a day,
There’re so many things that I remember,
So many things that I would like to say.

Chorus: Alarm clocks and breakfast, late for class,
Avoiding the Prof’s dirty looks,
What were you doing the night before?
Surely not hitting the books…

Chippy arrives, the off to the Inn,
You can meet everyone there,
One cigarette, the gang departs,
Back to the libe in despair…

In our youth we’d dream of this college,
Oh! To matriculate.
Now we’re here, amassing our knowledge,
But will we graduate?

So back to the study, dinner and bridge,
A letter or two just to say,
This is all part of our college life,
A typical Holyoke day…”

The mention of the Inn in line 9 refers to the College Inn, a popular hangout in the Village Commons that was destroyed by fire in 1985. Also note the slang word “libe” (for library) in line 12. This term was very common for many years and appears in numerous students records from the mid-20th century.

Other humorous songs poke fun at social life on the Mount Holyoke campus, and illustrate the importance of marriage for many students after graduation. This song was entered by Bridgman dormitory.

“All week we study hard
At Lab, the Libe and cards;
We’re broadening our lives
To make us better wives.
We slouch along in jeans,
Gain strength on lettuce greens;
We’re waiting for the weekend
When life and love begin.
Then off to meet the men--
Holyoke’s coed again
Our jeans are left behind
We’re glamorous, you’ll find,
‘Cause our weekend is here at last
And then it goes so fast!
And Monday rolls around
So it’s back to thoughts profound.”

A very charming submission from Cowles dormitory, written in 1957 by Trish McCarty ‘57 and Judy Roy ‘57 with music by Miss McCarty, is called “The Madrigal of Emily D.” One thing to point out that despite the principal concept of this song, Mountain Day had already been a tradition for nearly 10 years by the time Emily Dickinson arrived at Mount Holyoke for the 1847-1848 school year.

“O years ago when Holyoke was new,
Fresh-air walks, exercise, was the thing for girls to do.
Chorus: Sing we now, la la la, fa la la la la la la,
Oh absent-minded Emily, oh, oh,
Oh absent-minded Emily!

Oh, while out walking on an autumn day
Wandring (sic) through the wood, Emily found she’d lost her way.

At school the students feared she’d come to harm
So they ran to the chapel to ring the alarm.

Oh, groups set out to search both east and west,
Over mountains and meadows they hunted on their quest!

Soon they found her sitting by a tree,
So they sat down beside her to keep her company!

This has now become tradition; it’s the subject of our lay,
Now we do it every year and we call it Mountain Day!

One last song to bring a smile to your face-- this one was submitted by North Mandelle in 1957 by Judith Perry ‘58 and Laird Trowbridge ‘58 and won first prize! Remember that at this time in campus history, students were required to sign out with the registrar when leaving campus for an event.

“While I was the the Registrar’s one day,
I saw a freshman standing cross the way
Taking to Miss Hutchinson in tones so sweet and pure,
And this is what I heard the freshman say:

Hello there, Miss Hutchinson.
How are you, my dear Miss Hutchinson?
Please don’t clutch, Miss Hutchinson,
When I tell you what I’m going to do.

I’m a popular girl, Miss Hutchinson,
And I’m having a whirl, Miss Hutchinson,
So please don’t be stern
‘Cause I’ll always return
Miss Hutchinson, to you.

Friday I’ve a luncheon date at Harvard.
Saturday I’m drinking Scotch at Yale.
Sunday I’ve a study date
At the libe at dear old Colgate
Miss Hutchinson! You’re looking pale!

While I’m here I’ll sign out for next week-end.
My Princeton date is coxswain on the crew.
To that list of college men
Add my date at U. of Penn.
Miss Hutchinson, don’t stop ‘cause I’m not through!

Sunday there’s a lecture at Columbia
By a young professor that I know
He’s a Fulbright; he’s a brain
He can put me on the train
Miss Hutchinson, I have to go!

So, goodbye now, Miss Hutchinson
Don’t worry, dear Miss Hutchinson,
And please don’t be stern
‘Cause I’ll always return
Miss Hutchinson, I said Miss Hutchinson--
I’m in a much-in-son
obliged to you--

If anyone with musical inclinations has read and enjoyed these songs, the Archives and Special Collections would be very interested in hearing modern interpretations of these Mount Holyoke classics! As always, any curious parties are welcome to explore our collections during our open hours, by appointment or walk-in.

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