SLU Director of Ensembles
“What’s the big deal about these School Songs,” I said to myself when I started directing the Laurentian Singers in 1998. My assumption was that these would be like most traditionally functional songs - boring, vapid and overly sentimental. These preconceptions were quickly dispelled. My first “performance” with the Laurentians was singing the School Songs (as the 3 Songs of St. Lawrence are referred to, although there are many others) at a University function. The songs’ honest expression and the depth of feeling the Singers invested in them infused the occasion with a sense of pride and tradition that was palpable. Each of the songs gets at a particular sentiment – nostalgia (Chapel Bells), pride (A Tribute) and love (Alma Mater) – which combined sum up the feelings of many Laurentians for their university. I hope you’ll come to know, as I have over the past 14 years, that the meaning St. Lawrence holds for the members of this community, past and present, comes from a tradition of caring and respect fostered by this place. These songs, tuneful and heartfelt, are apt expressions of these sentiments. The Laurentian Singers never tire of singing them. We hope that each of you might learn to sing our Alma Mater and join your fellow Laurentians in perpetuating the traditions that have made St. Lawrence the special place it has been and continues to be today. (The linked song titles below will take you to performances of each one by the Laurentian Singers.)
Chapel Bells, written by Eugene Wright ’49, was the first prize winner in a contest for a new original school song in 1948, sponsored by the Alumni Council. He came away with $50 prize money (a decent sum in 1948) and SLU had the last of its 3 School Songs. It was published along with the other two and 43 other songs in the third edition of Songs of St. Lawrence in 1950. The version you’ll hear is a fine arrangement by my one of predecessors, J. R. (Dick) Gilbert, who was affectionately called “Papa G” by his singers. He directed the Laurentians from 1955 until his untimely death in 1970. Gilbert Recital Hall in Griffiths Arts Center is named in his honor.
Dr. Harry Shilkret ’21 composed more SLU songs then anyone. An amateur musician and composer all his life (he even wrote a concerto for horn and orchestra), he co-edited the 1921 edition of the songbook with John Brush ’22, who penned most of the lyrics to his tunes, including A Tribute. Shilkret not only wrote 16 of the 49 songs in the book (and several others that appeared in the 1950 edition) but also arranged most of the other songs, some for a cappella ensembles. We sing his own four-part setting.
St. Lawrence still benefits materially as well as spiritually from the song writing efforts of one of its most famous sons, J.K. Gannon ‘24. His long and illustrious career as a song writer (over 200 songs bear his name, mostly as lyricist) started here, and one of his first creations was our Alma Mater. At one point in his career he had 4 songs on the “Hit Parade” simultaneously. As recently as 2002 his most famous song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” was number 9 on the list of the 25 all-time most-performed holiday songs published by ASCAP – a good thing for SLU since, in his estate, Gannon designated that thirty percent of all his song royalties be paid to the University.
All of the performances you've heard are from the Laurentian Singers 60th Reunion Concert on June 3, 2006 in Gunnison Chapel. Singers from the classes of '49 to '09, more than 75 of them altogether, were joined by the SRO audience in the singing of the Alma Mater. And if you're wondering if song writing is alive and well today at SLU, the newest school song, The Fount, with lyrics and tune by Neema Mawiyoo '06, was performed by her and the Reunion Chorus also at this very special concert. That's Dr. Michael Farley of the SLU Music Department (and a faculty member in the FYP) on the saxophone.
As you might gather from all this, singing has been an important tradition at SLU; so much so that President Sullivan sponsored a special Sesquicentennial Scholar to research the history of singing at SLU as part of the University’s celebration of its 150th anniversary. In the summer of 2004 Wendy Berner ’06, a Laurentian Singer herself, produced a substantial paper detailing the University’s rich legacy of song.