The Catholic University of America

Dec. 22, 2011

Nostalgic Revue to Feature Bygone CUA Music

  Flying Cardinals Marching Band
  The Flying Cardinals Marching Band in 1934


In 1916, after a win on the football field, students from The Catholic University of America would parade through the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast, D.C., bellowing a tune written by their classmates Jimmie Conlin and Clem Fenton.

“Through the Town” — the earliest known song written specifically for Catholic University — evokes a time when C.U. men, as they were known, wore ties and starched collars to class and a football game was the place to be. “Let Brookland town rejoice tonight,” the song exclaims. “Hurl the pigskin ’cross the chalk-lines.”

On Feb. 12, 2012, at 3 p.m., Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will recreate those halcyon days with an original production of "Songs of Old CUA"  — a nostalgic musical revue celebrating music not heard for decades.

Part of CUA’s 125th anniversary celebration, the multimedia revue features singing, dancing, and performances by the CUA Wind Ensemble, the Flying Cardinals Dance Band, and Redline, the oldest student a cappella group on campus.

The music school will present the show — highlighting songs written between 1916 and 1993 — in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center Great Room. (Most of the music was written between 1916 and 1937.) Old photos of CUA students, the campus, and athletic events projected on a large screen will help to set the scene.

“I hope that people who see the show will come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the music and campus life of Catholic University’s early days,” says Grayson Wagstaff, music school dean. “I would expect they will leave humming those glorious old songs brought to life again by the very talented students, faculty, and staff of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music.”

The show features songs written “at CUA, for CUA, and by CUA people,” says Andrew Simpson, professor of music who is the show’s producer.

“The revue — a series of songs connected by a common thread — was popular at the turn of the century,” says Simpson who has written new arrangements for several of the pieces to be performed. “The thread is the music that celebrates the University and its history.”

Directed by Dominic Traino, the music school’s production manager, the revue is based on research by CUA Music Librarian Maurice Saylor and Music Library Technician Rachel Barham. An email request last year from the Marine Corps Band prompted their research project, which uncovered multiple alma mater songs in 10 different arrangements, seven fight songs, two fanfares, a march, a hymn, and “Drink a Highball,” a song popular at CUA and other schools during Prohibition.

Their research took Saylor and Barham to old issues of The Tower, CUA’s student newspaper, where they found numerous stories about Jack Fitzgerald, a member of the Class of 1925 and legendary CUA cheerleader, who became the inspiration for the show’s narrator “Fitz.”

Music Librarian Maurice Saylor and Music Library Technician Rachel Barham


“Fitz really embodies the kind of school spirit that existed on campus at that time,” says Saylor. Director Traino notes that the narrator helps “to energize the audience” and draw them into campus life.

As part of their research, Saylor and Barham pored over the contents of file cabinets in Ward Hall, the home of the music school, looking for old scores and lyrics. One day last summer, while working in Ward’s band room, they noticed a paper grocery bag on top of a stack of boxes perched on a corner file cabinet.

The words “Do not place ashes in this bag” were printed on the outside. Carefully opening the bag, they found the kind of cards that marching band members attach to their instruments for a performance. The researchers had stumbled on a treasure trove — the handwritten music for the “Alma Mater,” “Drink a Highball,” and “The Flying Cardinals March,” the original CUA fight song.

Their research also shed light on the mystery surrounding the University’s alma mater song, “Guardian of Truth,” and another piece called “Hail CUA” by Victor Herbert, father of the American operetta and composer of Babes in Toyland and the song, “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.”

Founded in 1887, Catholic University had no official song for its first 33 years. John Joseph Relihan, a member of the Class of 1920, and two fellow students organized a contest for an alma mater song, open to the then all-male student body. Relihan wrote to Herbert, well known at that time, asking him to set the winning lyrics to music.

Later, lyrics by the first- and second-place winners were sent to Herbert, who agreed with the judges that the more suitable text was the one written by the first-place winner, Robert H. Mahoney, a member of the Class of 1920. Herbert wrote the music, and donated the song, “Hail CUA,” to the University. A Catholic University publication that preceded The Tower noted that the Herbert/Mahoney song “will be the official Alma Mater Song.”

In the meantime, the second-place winner had written his own music to the lyrics he had submitted for the contest. Soon, his piece, “Guardian of Truth,” was being performed as the official song. Why did his version ultimately trump Herbert’s? The Tower noted that the CUA Glee Club found “Guardian of Truth” more suitable for men’s voices.

The performance is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. To reserve a seat, visit the online registration form. To register by phone, call the Office of Alumni Relations at 202-319-5608.

MEDIA: For more information about “Songs of Old CUA,” contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.





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