Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ten Songs of Yale you didn't know about

Bram Wayman '09 delves into the depths of songbooks past. The views shared here in no way represent the official opinion of the YGC Blog nor the YGC... & c. & c. & c.*

Though clear favorites stand the test of time, and the old song books of Yale are full of the high stupidity of yesteryear, a few gems that aren't often — if ever — sung today stand out for me. Some of these songs are beautiful, some hilarious, and some downright offensive, but they all deserve a second look, and I'm not convinced all of them should have fallen out of use. I'm no expert on the history of Yale songs, and have only picked from a few books, but here are ten songs of Yale that still bring a smile to my face.

1. "Old Tom Wilson." TTBB. One of Barty's cleverest arrangements, this piece is a song from the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. It features vocal banjos, vocal beer-chugging that gets longer each time the jug goes around, lyrics such as "Big fat gals that eat hot mush," and numerous key changes. Somebody had the cojones to put it in the 1953 songbook, which is the one Yale sells in the bookstore to unwitting visitors. Represent!

2. "Shall I, Wasting in Despair." SATB/TTBB. This rejection song's pretty tune and effective setting caught my eye when researching for my men's quartet last year. The lyrics date to the 17th century (thanks, Tim!). Though I much prefer melody in the soprano to melody in the second tenor (an inner voice), this song is particularly effective when sung by the TTBB ensemble. Present in every songbook going back to 1918.

3. "Daddy Is a Yale Man." TTBB. This is a song about a mother of three who marries somebody from Yale, then apparently sleeps with the entire student body before moving on to Harvard? You can puzzle it out for yourself, while appreciating its terrific "boom-la" accompaniment and hysterical lyrics. Someone had the grace to not put this in the more recent songbooks, but it's still in Barty's collection of 1953.

4. "And When the Leaves." SATB/TTBB. This anonymous song has been in the songbook since the nineteenth century. Though its lyrics seem somewhat obfuscating, I like their vague poetry, and have my own interpretation of their meaning. An old letter written to Barty (which is on display in the YGC 150th exhibit, in the SML exhibit room), references poorly written songs that would make the Club's music teachers cringe. Undoubtedly this fits the bill, with some remarkably poor counterpoint, but it sounds beautiful anyhow. It remains in the 150th Anniversary songbook.

5. "Bzt! Bzt!" TTBB. Something about fish balls and soup, this is probably the most idiotic college song I've seen yet. Back in 2009 a few of us crept into Battell under cover of night to sing all the songs we didn't dare try out in Hendrie. I couldn't breathe for laughing at "Bzt! Bzt!" We found it in the 1918 songbook, and I haven't run across it anywhere else.

6. "A Purple Cow." TTBB. This one's for the older alums, I guess, because my mom knew this nursery rhyme growing up. The mystique of the lyrics about this royally-arrayed bovine is heightened by a "Moo! Moo!" accompaniment from the chorus. Find it in the 1918 songbook.

7. "Comin' Through the Rye." TTBB. This is an inventive arrangement, by Frank Goodale, of an old Scottish song. Though its harmony is influenced by the barbershop tradition of the time, it is largely devoid of the typical schlock. "Comin' Through the Rye" features a trio of soloists in a sort of concerto-grosso-for-chorus setup, and thus stands out from the mundane songs that surround it in its likely debut publication, the 1918 songbook.

8. "Graceful and Easy." TTBB. A very short barbershop tune, I've never been able to sing this song with a straight face, due to a rather dubious third line in the lyrics and the five ladle-fuls of schmaltz the arranger poured on. You can find it, for some reason, in the current songbook, but it goes back at least as far as 1918.

9. "High Barbary." SATB/TTBB. Right in front of my face for years, I didn't bother to look at this until after I'd graduated. I wish I had. Though it requires some rehearsal — it's slightly above the difficulty of "Shenandoah" and probably not suitable for a singing dinner — it delivers, as Barty's arrangements usually do, a large reward for so little effort required to learn it. Present in the most recent songbook and many before.

10. "The Pope." TTBB. During my senior year this one became a favorite among some of us for its slightly (?) offensive lyrics, about how the Pope and the Sultan can engage in either alcoholic or libidinous behavior, but not both. The fourth verse is particularly hilarious for the way the music interacts with the words. Present in at least the 1918 and 1953 songbooks.

So sing to old Yale, to brave old Yale —
Bram

*credit to the Pedant's Corner.