Sunday, July 11, 2010

Delta State Alma Mater

Delta State University is one of a few regional universities with an original alma mater, I would think. The alumni have always been rather proud of the tune, which was written in 1930 by Ruth Fischer. Her original manuscript is on display at the university's alumni foundation house. I took a photograph of the manuscript and typeset it as a score in PDF. The following is what that score sounds like when generated electronically.

The 1958 alumni and alumnae sang it at the Delta Music Institute during homecoming festivities, and that session was recorded on youtube:

The Sinfonia chapter at Delta State has often been asked to sing the university's alma mater on certain occasions. When it does so, it usually reads from an arrangement done by chapter alumnus Tim Goodson, scored for men's voices. We never recorded ourselves singing it, but I can provide the Finale rendering of it into strings:

The tune is very difficult to work with, as it really does lend itself toward one particular musical style—that of early twentieth century female vocal trios and jazz big band, into which I doubt this piece was ever actually rendered.

I had tried for a very long time to come up with my own noble arrangement of this tune, when I found myself sitting at my friend Coday Anthony's house one night with Chris Hartfield there who was playing a guitar. As he was strumming and joking around, I asked him, "What can you do to the Delta State alma mater tune?" He thought for a moment and started playing it from what he knew. I fed him a few of Ruth Fischer's original chord progression (which uses a lot of extended tertian and jazz harmonies), and eventually he hammered out a new guitar version of it. He started singing along and I thought it sounded very good. Coday was inspired to record it. As a student of the university's recording technology program, he had the equipment at his disposal, and we began nailing the track down in his house, one track at a time. We started with the guitar alone, then added the guitarist singing it in an easy style. When at the repeat, we wanted to have some kind of really pleasant melodic voice of some kind, and we tried whistling the tune. I started whistling it, and they decided that that whistle would be perfect. The following file is the result of that night's labor.

I still want to try to integrate the tune into other genres, but so far, I believe this version to be the best recording I've heard. We had a great time making it.

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