September 25, 2016

Webster’s search for a song

By Bill Loellke

Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble said she wanted to start her presidency with a staple of school spirit.

“We were going to do some of the first commencements since my formal installation as president and I said, ‘Let’s sing the alma mater,’” Stroble said.  “Everybody said, ‘We don’t have an alma mater.’”

Stroble was sure there had to be an alma mater somewhere in Webster’s history. Webster has had two alma maters: “Dear Webster,” and “There is a College Called Webster.”

In conjunction with the university’s centennial anniversary, a competition is being held inviting students, faculty, staff and alumni of the university to compose a new alma mater. An initial board will narrow the submissions down to the best four or five. Senior administrator members will decide the new alma mater from those choices.

The deadline for submissions is Feb. 1, 2015 and the new alma mater will be unveiled at May 2015 commencement.  The composer will receive a $2,500 prize.

“Several years ago, we had looked back at the alma mater that was in the archives,” Department of Music Chair Jeffrey Carter said. “Back then, it was written about Webster College.  We’re looking for an alma mater that relates to Webster today.”

Carter manages the musical portion of the centennial activities.  He said Webster has changed since the last alma mater.

“We certainly have not had an alma mater that relates to Webster University as a global institution,” Carter said.  “The alma mater that we officially have was written in the 1940s when we were still a Catholic women’s college.”

Stroble said because of the changes Webster has undergone since the last alma mater was around, a new one is needed to represent the students that Webster serves.  Carter and Stroble believe the alma mater is not something students today would want to sing. Carter said Webster’s old alma maters are also composed differently than most.

“I think that students at Webster today would not find the tone and the range very easily sing-able,” Stroble said.  “It was definitely geared more for when we only had women students.”

Stroble said she remembers her experience singing the alma mater at the previous institution she worked for. At the University of Akron, Stroble sang along to the school’s alma mater at every commencement ceremony, and she said everyone in the room knew it.

“The feeling of community that comes from everybody singing the signature song of the college or the university is very stirring,” Stroble said.

The Original Alma Maters

The university’s original alma mater was a song called “Dear Webster.”

The song was first mentioned in 1928 in Webster College’s student newspaper, The Web.  The song was officially published in 1929 when the sheet music appeared, copyrighted by Hunleth Music Co.

Class of 1928 graduate Anne E. Carr wrote the lyrics.  Class of 1929 graduate Frances “Frank” R. Ward composed the music.

A new alma mater titled “There is a College Called Webster” emerged in 1945 from a contest held in conjunction with a spring musical production called “In Search of the Song.” One purpose of the production was searching for a new song that would “typify Webster,” an article from The Web, the former student newspaper, said. 

Students were trying to write songs that would “express the spirit of W.C. (Webster College).”

Class of 1945 graduates Inge d’Alquen Huber and Peggy Versen won the contest. Class of 1947 graduate Mary Connaghan said the song was just a song.

“We would only sing it occasionally,” Connaghan said.  “It really wasn’t something we did all the time or even every week.  It wasn’t that important to us.”

“It was our alma mater,” Fellow Class of 1947 graduate Peggy Czufin said.  “In my memory, we were singing it a lot.”

Time for Change

Carter said that the competition is looking for an alma mater that is easy to sing along to.

“We’re looking for a verse and a chorus or a verse with four symmetrical phrases.  These are the kinds of things that make for simple, sing-able music,” Carter said.

Stroble said she and the administration will know the new alma mater when they hear it.

“It’ll touch our heart and our mind,” Stroble said. “It’ll be that right blend of content and stir an emotional tide. I am looking forward to that moment at May 2015 commencement.”

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