"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Original UMM "fight song" warrants fresh look

This post has a theme of UMM music. So does the post I just put up on "Morris of Course" which emphasizes UMM music travels, those adventures that have both an enriching and promotional purpose.
Click on the permalink below to read my "Morris of Course" post which has the headline "UMM music travels of today, and of times gone by."
Most importantly, don't forget to support the next big music event at UMM: the Jazz Festival set for April 4 and 5. Kevin Harris and Darren Barrett are coming.
Songs from UMM's birth
The University of Minnesota-Morris pep band played for basketball games (i.e. men's basketball games) at the old P.E. Annex in the early days. The annex is likely a fading memory. I think it's a shame we build these buildings and then find decades later they're dinosaurs.
The old annex had a swimming pool on the bottom level that my boomer peers and I used.
UMM had its own "fight song" that my father Ralph E. Williams composed. He was especially proud of the "UMM Hymn" which he also composed.
The Hymn has been revived through the years. UMM singers performed it as part of a Garrison Keillor performance at the P.E. Center ("Prairie Home Companion").
The fight song has been allowed to fade into obscurity. Perhaps the best current terminology would be "school song" and not "fight song."
It may have been put aside as a reflection of the social unrest bubbling on college campuses everywhere - a desire to shelve much that was considered traditional or conventional. It became kind of a knee-jerk thing.
To the extent that UMM has a (sort of) school song, it would simply be the U of M "rouser." A recording of this is what you hear played at UMM football games after UMM touchdowns. I don't think there's any other manifestation.
Is the band arrangement of the original UMM school song still in the UMM music library? If I had to guess, I'd say "no." I know the original "lead sheet" (melody, chords, lyrics) is in existence, and we have given some copies around to people who are interested, like UMM's chancellor.
I can't honestly say whether the song's popularity, its appeal, was a factor in it being phased out. I seem to recall a "company line" that UMM simply wanted to make sure everyone knew of our affiliation with the U of M, and the "rouser" would surely promote that.
However, the U of M rouser is a quite tired old song, and in the days when every little town around Minnesota had its own high school, it seemed like half of them "borrowed" the U of M rouser for their fight song. It actually got tiresome.
I remember being at a tournament game once when there was a smattering of laughter when a band struck up the rouser after we'd already heard it a couple times.
Of course, all this popularity is a tremendous tribute to whoever wrote this song.
Remember, for every popular song, there was a moment when its creator, perhaps wearing only his underwear and maybe scribbling on a napkin, first wrote it. I was fascinated visiting a Nashville TN museum once and seeing such napkins or scrap paper bearing the words, first born, for a song like "Oh Lonesome Me."
My father Ralph probably sat at a piano keyboard, playing chords as he gradually put together those seminal UMM songs.
Potential for revival?
Let's cut to the chase and talk about the original UMM "fight song." I wouldn't dare say anything "constructive" about this song were it still being used. Since it is not, we have to entertain the possibility it might need a "tweak." May lightning strike me. But I'm saying this in the name of trying to get that original song restored.
Maybe it could be restored not as our official school song, but as a piece with archival value. I absolutely guarantee you the melody "works." It has a crisp and distinctive quality. An instrumental version would satisfy everyone. I'm sure Wes Flinn of the UMM staff could do a dynamite job penning an arrangement.
So, what am I saying here? Ahem. I'm saying that maybe the lyrics need a little jump start. I'm talking about the second line of the lyrics where my father exercised artistic license. I would guess even the most gifted creative people can falter where artistic license is concerned. It can work and it can stumble.
Here's the first line: "Fight, fight, fight for Morris U."
Then, in the second line, my father actually achieved five rhyming syllables - incredible. "Hike, hike, hike a score or two." Gary McGrath sang these lines when he came back for UMM's homecoming two years ago. He smiled broadly.
None of us demands that the song lyrics we hear every day be totally coherent. Heaven forbid. But a fight song lyrics are sung repeatedly, or at least they used to be. Old traditions have faded.
Nevertheless maybe there's actually a "solution" for that fight song's second line, assuming this has ever been pegged as a problem.
My suggestion for a second line is something my father could not have even written, because it uses terminology from women's sports. I would suggest the following: "Spike, spike, spike an ace or two." There are four rhyming syllables instead of five. Certainly that shouldn't matter.
The UMM fans could do fist pumps with the first line of the song, and make volleyball spiking motions with the second (trying not to knock out the people in front of you). I think the students would "get into" this.
Fight, fight, fight for Morris U

Spike, spike, spike an ace or two.
At the very least, I think it would be terrific for UMM's instrumental musicians of today to do a nice crisp recording of the original song, and to have this played after some touchdowns this fall. It would sure be a conversation-starter. "What the heck is that tune?" 
Well, it's "ours," a song for the Morris campus, rather than the "old turnip" U of M rouser.
We don't need to play the rouser to remind how we're part of the U, because by now the identity is fully established. We sure don't need to be defensive. Let's have some fun with this.
Get this: Using the lyrics, we'd be the only college in the nation, most likely, to have a fight song using terminology from women's intercollegiate sports.
Hearing this song played again would be a breath of fresh air, IMHO. There is too much seriousness on the UMM campus. Let's lighten up and enjoy some traditional campus spirit like the campus in the Fred MacMurray "Flubber" movies. Those basketball players looked like they were playing in a place like the P.E. Annex.
The new science building stands where the UMM P.E. Annex was.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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