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SING A SONG FOR ALMA MATER
Robert Cantwell
September 06, 1976
Familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, but that old saw does not hold true for college songs. Saturday after Saturday the marching bands blare out the nostalgic strains, and in the stands undergraduates, alumni and just plain friends belt out the lyrics ("March On! Fight! Cheer! Hail! Victory!") and feel their backbones tingle. It's hard to be a cynic when they play the old school song, hard not to believe that down on the field the heroes are feeling the excitement and rising to the occasion. Here and on the following pages are some of the best songs and, on page 65, a story about composers of college tunes—most notably, Cole Porter, Yale '13.
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September 06, 1976

Sing A Song For Alma Mater

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Bull Dog! Bull Dog!
Bow wow wow!
Eli Yale!
Bull Dog! Bull Dog!
Bow wow wow!
Our team can never fail....

By this time Porter was known beyond college circles as an accomplished entertainer, songwriter, pianist, parodist and wit. On campus he was sought out by Gerald Murphy, famous in the 1920s as a leader of the American expatriate colony in Paris, who wanted Porter to join Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (he did). He toured with the Yale Glee Club, recollecting later:

The beer is cooler
In Ashtabula
The drinks in Dayton
More stimulatin'....

He haunted the New York theaters, at the expense of such courses as History 1A (which he failed) and wrote Longing for Dear Old Broadway.

Gee what a place to waste a day in
Gee what a place to fade away in....

When Bull Dog began to be belted out at pep rallies, the New Haven Register devoted half a page to Porter and his works.

Though he would write some 1,500 other songs and enjoy a lifetime of hits, beginning with Old-Fashioned Garden and continuing through Night and Day, I've Got You Under My Skin, Begin the Beguine, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, C'est Magnifique to True Love from High Society, Porter retained an indulgent affection for his football fight songs. He liked to reflect that they were "still sung lustily by the old grads." He recalled that Bull Dog was pirated by a music publisher who gave him due credit but never paid him a penny in royalties. Because his grandfather had accumulated several million dollars worth of farmlands and coal mines, which Porter stood to inherit, the money was not a concern. But from then on he displayed the instincts of a professional musician, with the professional's proper regard for his own worth.

In only one respect did Porter fail to outshine the other college songwriters. Washington and Lee Swing, The Maine Stein Song, On, Wisconsin, Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech, Anchor's Aweigh, The Notre Dame Victory March moved beyond college circles and were sung or danced to everywhere; Porter's college compositions never were. They just weren't simple enough. The ideal College song came from some stirring victory, uncomplicated by concerns that the lyrics might be sentimental.

Michael Shea, who wrote the music for The Notre Dame Victory March, said the tune had been running through his head for days before he had any reason to write it down. Then the stunning defeat in 1908 of the unbeaten Notre Dame team by Michigan made him feel a fight song was essential. His brother John put words to Michael's unwritten tune:

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.
Wake up the echoes cheering her name....

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