Recently I came across a video of Elton John. He’s doing a question-and-answer session onstage, when someone challenges him to compose, on the spot, a song to suit the words of a toaster oven instruction manual. John agrees, the challenger hands over the manual, John goes to his piano, and not-a-bad song ensues.
“Amazing,” I said, probably to myself, since browsing the Internet tends to be a solitary activity.
At video’s end I recalled that once, when I was taking piano lessons, I had determined to try my hand at composing a song. Composing seemed to be to be one of those abstract things that seem both near and far; after listening to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, you see, one feels like an empty room with a piano and an hour would suffice to compose a decent and catchy jingle; yet after listening to Old Ludwig’s Ninth Symphony, one feels like the enterprise would be best left untouched.
Tried I did, nevertheless, but I don’t really have to tell you that an hour later I had achieved only five notes, all of which, when played one after the other, resembled a sound akin to a wrench falling through some scaffolding.
I began to wonder if Elton could compose a song for any text—for a Goucher College admissions office brochure, for example. I’m sure he could. Then, I thought, perhaps someone already had. A school song, I mean—a song composed specifically for Goucher, to rouse the blood and enliven the spirits. Thusly I flew to the library, hopeful of nabbing some song I could pollute the shower with that evening.
What I came across first was the Book of the Inauguration of William Guth. In it is transcribed a song sung at the ceremony. Imaginatively entitled “Song of Goucher College” (words by Anna Lewis Cole, music by John Itsst) it begins on a bit of a downer, “Where is pain or care or sorrow? / Where are menacing thoughts for the morrow? / Come let them alone…” It goes for a bit, then wraps things up with, “Sing of breeze on Cretan shore, / Sing of the jewels of Persia’s lore, / Yes, purer than these / And sweet as that breeze / Be the lives of the women in dear Goucher Hall…”
Elegant (although I’m not certain I agree with that bit about Goucher being as pure as a breeze tickling the Crete coastline), yet not nearly as groovy as something from the Hall and Oates cannon. I decided now not to settle for anything less than Hall and Oates quality, and pressed on with my research.
So I pulled from the shelf our old friend, The History of Goucher College, and perused. At length I came to a section on the college song: “…music has come into the life of the College in other ways,” it read, “mainly, perhaps, through college songs. These have been written, in a few cases, by members of the faculty, but most frequently by the students themselves.”
The text goes on to describe how these songs have “added zest to all sorts of college events” and even “formed an outlet for emotions.” One student wrote that, “Strong feelings surge up within us, mighty emotions struggle for expression, and we give vent to them in music. When things go awry, some brave soul starts a song and all is well.” (Goes miles in explaining the Cretan breeze thing.)
Apparently the first formal college hymn, “beginning ‘All glorious like the sun,’” was written by Professor Frank R. Butler. It debuted at commencement in 1895 and was widely used in the early years of the college, until a foot-tapping Latin hymn called “Almae Matrix of President Hopkins,” came in 1911 to take its place.
A number of songs were batted around from there on out. As the book says, “Goucher now has songs too numerous to mention, among them favorites sung many times, but it is still awaiting the one song which all students always, everywhere, will sing as the college song.”
There was, then, no definitive chart-topper. Growing fearful that my Goucher-song-shower-to-be was in jeopardy, I pulled out the failsafe—I Googled, “Goucher song.”
I discovered three things, the first two of which were useless to me: (1) On ebay there is for sale ($9.95) sheet music for a song called “Where Goucher’s Far Flung Colors,” which I can’t be bothered to sit down and figure out the tune to on the piano; (2) there is for sale on Amazon a vinyl album called “Goucher Sing Song 1958,” a recording of the Goucher College song writing competition which was held annually and produced a good many songs over the years; and (3) there is on YouTube a video with 39 views of an alumnae singing the song she and her friends composed for a Sing Song competition in the 1950s.
She sings, “O Goucher College, / O Goucher College, / You are just too, too, divine, / Directly north of Baltimore / Just past the city line…” and it goes on, but in case you should walk down my hall as I’m showering tonight, for this is certainly the ditty I’ve chosen to sing, I won’t spoil the ending for you. (If all goes well with this little number, I shall follow it with a rousing rendition of Hall and Oates’s classic “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).”)