Around the turn of the 20th century, several universities published collections of college songs. College songbooks had a wide circulation both inside the university and in the surrounding community; therefore, they reflect the singing traditions of the university, as well as the popular repertoire of their day. Over 30 college songbooks survive from at least 10 universities across Canada. The core repertoire is found in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, dating from 1879 to 1928. The US college song tradition had a strong impact on the anglophone Canadian college song. Yale and Harvard songbooks as well as the pan-collegiate Carmina Collegensia (1868) were models for Canadian collections. Francophone universities do not seem to have produced any college songbooks.
Canadian songbooks, published by and for university students, ranged in format from pamphlets containing words only to substantial volumes of printed music arranged either for four-voice ensemble or for solo voice with piano accompaniment. The songbook repertoire includes traditional student songs, college songs, popular and folk songs, and original songs. While English predominates, the song texts are in a range of languages including French, German, Latin, and a number of dialects (usually employed for purposes of satire).
Glee clubs, which sang popular, folk, and college songs, were sometimes publishers of college songbooks. Their repertoire may account for the large number of popular and folk songs found in the songbooks. The earliest songbook, A Pocket Song Book for the Use of the Students and Graduates of McGill College, exhibits the typical diversity of songs found in these songbooks. It is also notable for containing the earliest printed version of 'Alouette,' and an original college song, 'A Health to Old McGill,' music composed by Mrs W.C. Baynes. The earliest known Canadian college song, music composed by Maud Cronyn, is 'Farewell, Loved Teachers' (1859) from Mount Allison Ladies Seminary, now Mount Allison University.
Women and Minority Groups
As noted above, some Canadian college songs were composed by women. The importance of women in the composition of Canadian college songs is exceptional compared to the US tradition. College songs in both countries were closely associated with male groups, including fraternities and male glee clubs. Women in Canada usually contributed to the college song tradition through their own colleges and musical groups.
Women are often portrayed in college songs in stereotypical patterns, as are members of minority racial groups. This was perhaps a result of the affirmation of the exclusive university group (white, affluent men). Racist songs usually employ dialect, imitating accents in a derogatory fashion. Among those groups targeted are Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, Chinese, and, especially, African North Americans. (Some of these songs were borrowed from US songbooks.) 'Darkie songs' were probably stimulated by the minstrel craze, and sustained by the banjo and mandolin clubs, which were often linked to glee clubs.
Pre-existent and Composed Tunes
College songs were most often composed as contrafacta, setting new words to a pre-existent tune. Certain tunes (eg, 'Annie Lisle') were used repeatedly, as were national anthems. The contrafacta technique enabled amateurs to participate in song composition, and aided the function of parody in that some songs were humorous or satirical because of the prior association of tune and/or text.
In addition to this tradition, many Canadian college songs had original music as noted above. Two glee club presidents, James Edmund Jones (University of Toronto) and Harold Eustace Key (McGill University) composed songs, the former contributing 16 in all. Roy Wheeler composed college songs while studying music at Mount Allison University. Song competitions also stimulated compositions by those outside the university. H.H. Godfrey's 'Toronto, or the Pride of the North' is a successful example. It was subsequently adapted by Acadia University and Dalhousie University.
Recent song competitions have usually solicited words only and songbooks are no longer published; however, interest in reviving the college song has been shown at several universities and singing continues to play a role in both official and informal contexts.
The 1974 recording Canadian University Songs (Robert Dicknoether, baritone; John Coveart, piano; Ard Records ASLP 51) features songs from Waterloo, Dalhousie, McGill, Guelph, Acadia and several other universities.
Songs of Acadia College (cover reads Acadia College Song Book) (Wolfville, NS 1902-3, 1907)
Songs: 'Acadia Centennial Song' (1938), Marietta Silver (words), Basil C. Silver (music); 'The Acadia Clan Song,' Charles W. Williams (words), Lila P. Williams (music); 'Alma Mater - Acadia,' L.D. Cox (words), tune 'Massa's in the cold ground'; 'Alma Mater Acadia' (1938), J.H. MacDonald (words), tune 'Gott, erhalte Franz den Kaiser' (Haydn); 'Alma Mater Song,' tune 'Annie Lisle'.
Songs: 'Alma Mater,' Rev Sidney Mead (words), tune German folksong adapted by Mead; 'Bishop's University Marching Song,' Phil Townsend and/or John Mortland (words), John Piper (music).
Dalhousie Songs ([Halifax] 1913, 1921)
Dalhousie University Song-book, compiled by Charles B. Weikel [Halifax 1904]
The McGill University Song Book, compiled by a committee of graduates and undergraduates (Montreal 1896, 1921)
A Pocket Song Book for the Use of the Students and Graduates of McGill College (Montreal 1879)
Songs: 'Alma Mater McGill,' J. McDougall (words); 'L'Enfant du McGill,' Louis-Honoré Fréchette (words), Guillaume Couture (music); 'God Save McGill,' W.M. Mackeracher (words), tune 'God Save the Queen'; 'A Health to Old McGill,' R.W. Huntingdon (words), Mrs W.C. Baynes (music); 'McGill,' C.W. Colby (words), tune 'The Gay Cavalier'; 'McGill Revisited,' John Cox (words), tune a) German air, b) original; 'McGill Students' (Student's) Song,' W.N. Evans (words); 'The Student of McGill,' R.D. McGibbon (words).
Mount Allison University
Mount Allison Songs, rev by William B. Perry (Toronto 1926)
Queen's University Song Book (Toronto 1903)
Songs: 'Queen's College Colours' (1897) also known as 'Our University Yell' and 'Oil Thigh,' A.E. Lavell (words), tune 'John Brown's Body'
University of British Columbia
Students' Song Book of the University of British Columbia ([Vancouver?] 1925-26), text only
U.B.C. Song Book (Vancouver 1948)
Songs: 'Hail, U.B.C'. Harold King (words and music); 'High on Olympus' D.C. Morton (words), J.C.F. Haeffner (music).
University of New Brunswick
Carmina Universitas Novi Brunsvici (Fredericton 1921, 1926)
Songs: 'Alma Mater' (1904); 'UNB Anthem,' A.G. Bailey (words), D.V. Start (music).
University of Saskatchewan
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto Song Book (Toronto 1887, 2nd edn 1918, rev and enlarged by James Edmund Jones)
Songs: 'The Blue and White,' Rev Claris E. Silcox (words), Clayton E. Bush (music), rev 1990: Madge Shaw Hermant and J.P.N. Hume (words), John Beckwith (music); 'Honour Old Varsity,' E.C. Acheson (words), tune, Norwegian national anthem; 'Hurrah! for the Blue and White,' G.W. Ross (words), Elmer H. Smith (music); 'Varsity,' A.E. Wickens (?words and music).
"Precision," (1932), Denise Chabot (music); orchestrated for band by Capt F.W. Coleman
Ryerson Polytechnical Institute
University of Alberta
University of Manitoba
University of Waterloo
University of Western Ontario
Author Rebecca Green
Green, Rebecca. 'Gaudeamus igitur: college singing and college songbooks in Canada,' Three Studies, CanMus Documents 4 (Toronto 1989)
'Return of the Blue and White,' University of Toronto Bulletin, 9 Oct 1990
Links to Other Sites
Sheet music from Canada's past
A very extensive collection of digitalized copies of sheet music published before Confederation and during the First World War. Includes patriotic and parlour songs, piano pieces, sacred music, novelty numbers, and more. Also, check out the sheet music covers that appear in the Gallery section. From Library and Archives Canada.
The Frederick Harris Music Co.
The website for Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited, a leading print music publisher. Click on "About Us" and then "Our Authors and Composers" for brief biographies.