De Laudes Atque Carmina Comment Count

Seth February 13th, 2015 at 11:28 AM

via MVictors

So this week a group of a certain kind of idiot students tried to get the student body to fund a Frankenstein-ian effort to replace compete with the best fight song ever composed. Once the entirety of the soul-possessing Michigan fanbase wanted to slap them in the face, they withdrew this petition to make way for an amended version that makes it clear they'll keep The Victors alongside their proposed abomination.

Today they're still fighting—one made a radio appearance to complain that his talking points were getting all scrambled in the mad rush to explain to him just what a bad idea this is. In the show he clarified a number of things, like that they've gone to "many" student groups to get more spoons into the kitchen, and addressed important things like the song's branding and a documentary film about how it was made, but haven't actually, you know, written any song. He also emphasized that they don't want to get rid of the The Victors (just have it compete with their self-aggrandizing golem), and expressed hope that it would get picked up around the country, like how Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind became a sort of anthem for the Yankees.

Ace and Brian already addressed how the thing and the guy proposing the thing are ridiculous (and Brian had to explain his tongue was in his cheek afterwards). Since the offseason generates user content at a slower pace, in lieu of Dear Diary* this morning I wanted to talk about what's so irreplaceable about The Victors, and provide a little deeper discussion on the topic than the prima facie "ungh that's horrible."

Change? Michigan has, in fact, changed its fight song several times in its history. Most notably, they replaced The Victors with Varsity for a time, because once Michigan had rage-quit the Western Conference, "Champions of the West" no longer made any sense.

An early favorite, and still the opening of any glee club concert, was Laudes Atque Carmina (Praises and Songs), written by Charles M. Gayley, class of 1878, and arranged by Albert Stanley. Here's the line I love:

ooooooohhhhh Gloria-Victoria!
Oohhh decus omnium
O salve Universitas Michiganesium

What a perfect description of the Michigan zeitgeist: "Glory and Victory—oh, and  be virtuous in everything while you're at it please kthx."

Apparently we have to explain why this is worth keeping around.

This is probably a more applicable sentiment today than hailing long-dead heroes for conquering Maroons and Fighting Methodists.** But it's also in Latin, and dated, and pedantic, and most importantly nobody knows the words unless they've done glee.

The anthems of Michigan's songbook range in tenor from bawdy drinking songs to, well, pretentious drinking songs. The majority of them come from before World War II, and for a very good reason: that's when people used to sing a lot.

In the time before recording/playback devices, the way a hit song spread was by printing the sheet music. The way they got music into a bar was to get everyone in the bar to sing it. Michigan students would bring their songbooks to dinner, or dorm meetings, and certainly the game. As many students knew the verses to The Victors as could name the quarterback. The most typical extra-curricular activity was to cross Division‡ to their favorite pubs, fill a mug, and join the chorus.#

For thousands of years, getting drunk and singing together was one of the best parts of a human existence. Psychologists even found that most peoples' brains are wired to fire off the same happy feelings you get from love or a massive success when belting out a song surrounded by friendly people doing the same (no matter how it comes out). Biologically, we sing our fight song for the same reason we gather with 113,000-odd people to watch college football: The Natural High.

These things are not manufacturable; they are eruptions from abnormally articulate ids that by astronomical odds came out both cogent and catchy. The chance of finding one is the same likelihood that whatever just escaped from this guy…

…just happened to be organized into a comprehensible language that both rhymes and fits a Souza meter. Mankind's best effort to R&D this phenomenon resulted in heroin.

This stuff has to come from a random and deep subconscious because the brain cannot devise its own distraction.‖ Football came out of some students with a field and a ball who wanted to get their rrraaaarrrgh out. The Victors came out of Louis Elbel in the following state:

My spirits were so uplifted that I was clear off the earth, and that is when “The Victors” was inspired. To my thinking, Michigan Spirit needed a fitting paean, a clarion call — something simple but grand and heroic, something to let out on. Very shortly the strain of “Hail to the Victors” came to mind, and gradually the entire march. I am interested in the psychology of composing, but never have been able to answer satisfactorily just how a “tune” originates in my head. It is easy enough to make tunes, but sweeping, inspiring strains are not made — they flash unawares. And so it was with “The Victors.”

The Victors, like college football, is a weird configuration that happened to bring out a mass, biological, positive feel. Finding a thing like that is like capturing a moon: if it's a little un-genuine it'll crash, and if it's a little unpopular it'll shoot off into space, and if it's not awesome nobody will notice it.

Hail and Unite, then, is the equivalent of Disney suggesting we add a 1,000-mile radius Mickey Mouse (or maybe a Jar Jar Binks—we don't know—but we are talking to lots of interest groups and might have it designed by Bill Watterson and Matt Groening, and our marketing program uses lots of power words) to Earth's orbit, then saying it's okay because you still plan to leave good ol' Luna in the sky for the sake of the traditionalists.§ Even suggesting this shows a staggering misunderstanding of where moons come from, the physics involved, or why people like the one we have. You should not be involved in anything having to do with moons.

Could there ever be another song added to the pantheon? Yes, absolutely! It's a very big bowl; there is room for more than The Victors, and Varsity, and the alma mater, and Let's Go Blue, and the cowbell, and Hawaiian War Chant, and Temptation, and the shortened version of Temptation we sing to rub in the fact they have to give us the ball back now. Most of the glee club's lineup is pre-1940 for the reason above, but every half century or so one of the many new arrangements is canonized.¶ There could be a young savant sitting in the Music School right now who, in the course of a jubilant, all-maize bus ride from Columbus to Ann Arbor late next fall, will gurgitate a timeless thing that'll trick all future generations of Michigan fanbrains into releasing their jealously guarded serotonin.

There's a reason only a handful of schools have found their "Hail!", their "Ramblin' Wreck", their "Rocky Top" or their "Echoes." If you need Eminem (or the version of him you can get for $1,000) to make it cool, you're doing it this way:

the internet never forgets.

And if you're ever talking about how to market a work of art before it's even created, you are doing it exactly wrong.


* Dear Diary in Latin is "Carus Commentarius" and I am highly tempted to change the name of the column to that.

** Chicago and Northwestern

† One claims Ann Arbor should rank with Socratic Greece and Newton's Oxford. There's another called "Michigan Men" that begins with the line "Rum pum pum pum! Rum pum pum pum! Yiddy yiddy iddy yiddy Um pum, Um, pum, Um pum um." Another you might have heard is I Want to Go Back to Michigan.

‡ Division Street is named such because it was literally the division between the city and campus, which was dry.

# Little Brown Jug was one of the most popular bar songs of the early 20th century, if you ever wondered how an oversized, half-blue/half-maroon cask that used to be white got termed as such. If some local bar wants to start a 1910s-style drink-and-sing night I am so there.

‖ You can't hypnotize yourself, for example.

§ And the Michigan Alumni Association on it.

The last was Michigan Remember, a poem from 1963 and set to music in 1993.



February 13th, 2015 at 11:41 AM ^

I want to teach my daughter how to play The Victors on her toy piano. You know the ones that you play twinkle twinkle little star by pressing the numbers. Does anyone know how to translate The Victors into a play by numbers?


February 13th, 2015 at 12:51 PM ^

I'm musically illiterate so the way I think of piano keys is that the one on the far left is 1, the next one 2, etc. I taught myself to play "The Victors" one time when I was bored and I remember the first 5 notes as 18-16-17-18-16. The riff from "Smoke on the Water" by the same "method" is 3-5-7, 3-5-8-7, 3-5-7, 5-3. 

Bando Calrissian

February 13th, 2015 at 11:42 AM ^

Didn't the Men's Glee Club sponsor a contest about two or three years ago for someone to write a new Michigan song? Someone came up with something, it got recorded, and that was that. Sort of a college-y "Ann Arbor is beautiful in the moon-ah and the June-ah, 'ere with my love on the Diag" type stuff.

A far cry from a kid in a dorm room with ProTools trying to be Dr. Luke. Because LET'S GET REAL HYPE, BROS!

oriental andrew

February 13th, 2015 at 12:50 PM ^

Back when I was in MMGC, we debuted the winning song of the GC song-writing contest. It was actually quite beautiful. "Memories of Michigan" by David Cortright. I still get goosebumps when I sing it.…

While looking back these four years seem like a dream now

The things we left undone will only be what could have beens now

But although these days are ending, our memories remain

And we, who once were children, leave as the men that we became

Though our time here is fleeting, our lives have just begun

In the end, I found a friend at Michigan


February 14th, 2015 at 1:46 PM ^

was organized by Jeff Marx (clubber and co-composer of Avenue Q)

The winner was David Cortwright’s “Memories of Michigan”. David wasn’t a music student but a Physics-Engineering major who had a great interest in sound, chaos theory, relativity and computer systems. He is also a glee-clubber. I think he went to Microsoft after graduation.

Howard Watkins, mentioned as one of the judges in the link, is an assistant conductor of The Met. If you ever listen to weekend Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, you will often hear his name mentioned.

I am not familiar with Paul Rardin’s “Michigan Remember” but it doesn’t surprise me that he wrote a Michigan song (but it may have been later than 1993 date referenced by the article.) Paul was a graduate student in the School of Music in the early 90‘s who did some wonderful arrangement and composition work for the Men’s Glee Club. I think he arranged “Under the Sea”, “The William Tell Overture” and others. Rardin later became the Glee Club director, so perhaps he wrote it then?

About the Michigan Songs. Yes, many of them, but by no means all, originated as drinking songs. Most such songs came from the various drinking societies on campus which were like early fraternities. The Friars (the singing group) take their name from one of these early drinking clubs.

Many of the Michigan Songs originated from Michigan Union Operas. Many of you may know that the Michigan Union wasn’t always U of M property. It started out life as a something of a student co-op. Glee clubbers and other musical students would write, act and staff operettas and then take them on tour to help raise money for building the Union. Some of these songs do center around drinking however...The Glee Club sometimes jokingly refers to itself as a “drinking group with a singing problem”. The Friar’s Song (sing it, Carl!), When Night Falls, I’ll Ne’er Forget My College Days and Bum Army and others all come form these Michigan Union Operas. They used to be performed in front of the Union during Homecoming with men in drag playing the female parts, but sadly that tradition died out decades ago.

I have no problem with any student taking a shot at adding to the rich and living Michigan musical tradition. If the work has merit, then it will stand. I’d rather such work not be contracted out. There is so much talent on campus, there is no need.


February 13th, 2015 at 11:44 AM ^

only modification might be dropping the W from the phrase "Champions of the West", since we are really more East than West in a purely geographical sense, How about "Champions of the Rest?"  Kidding, Victors is the best fight song in the Universe.


February 13th, 2015 at 12:00 PM ^

Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant!
Here they come with banners flying,
In stalwart step they're nighing,
With shouts of vict'ry crying,
We hurrah, hurrah, we greet you now,

Far we their praises sing
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Far we their praises tell
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Here they come, Hurrah!

Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
the leaders and best
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!

We cheer them again
We cheer and cheer again
For Michigan, we cheer for Michigan
We cheer with might and main
We cheer, cheer, cheer
With might and main we cheer!

Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!


February 13th, 2015 at 12:57 PM ^

If you're a regular attendee at hockey games, there's a good chance you've picked up at least the first verse of The Yellow and Blue, as the students sing it after the end of every game at Yost.  If you have young children at home, I encourage you to learn it because it makes for an excellent lullabye.

Sing to the colors that float in the light
Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue!
Yellow the stars as they ride through the night
And reel in a rollicking crew
Yellow the field where ripens the grain
And Yellow the moon on the harvest wain
Hail to the colors that float in the light
Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue!


February 13th, 2015 at 2:33 PM ^

Always weird to me that we only ever sing the first verse, since it's all about Yellow, and the song is supposed to be the Yellow & Blue. Why not sing the first two verses, or just the third verse (maybe modify the golden haired maid bit to something a bit more inclusive)?


February 13th, 2015 at 12:25 PM ^

No, I was there when this hit the internet and it was instantly the most awkward and mockable thing since Al Gore tried to share a precious moment with Tipper. Ask BiSB, who was in South Bend at the time, how it went over with contemporaries.


February 13th, 2015 at 12:20 PM ^

My main problem with this is more a problem with modern music in general. The Victors is a classic. It has stood the test of time and will continue to. Songs now, probably more than ever, are temporary. Their use expires after some time. Go back and look at Grammy winners or nominees from as recent as five years ago. How many of these songs do you still even semi-regularly listen to? I'd guess not that many. Personally, most of my listens along these lines are for nostalgia, not because the songs are that amazing.

In addition, the subject has to be about the University. Even if I love the things that are mentioned, it will always sound like they made a list of things to mention and shoved them into a song. It will be lame. It will not have been created from any actual point of inspiration. This is a big reason why "We Are ND" and similar efforts fail (in my opinion).

Here's how to go about this: don't ask the university or anyone else to be in on it, just make the song and put it out into the universe. If it's really a good song and a good anthem for the university, it'll get picked up.


February 13th, 2015 at 12:30 PM ^

I had a deleted section that shared this sentiment exactly. It was too tangential and I was getting away from The Victors enough as it was, but I had this whole thing about how they manufacture hits out of the same formulaic four chord progressioc, and manufacture pop stars out of the same act/body type/persona. In Europe where the man doesn't have near the control of what gets marketed musically, everybody flocks to Oasis or Coldplay or Muse*, not because they're extraordinary, but because popularity itself is part of the drug.

*i.e. Radiohead if they stopped at Pablo Honey, The Bends, or O.K. Computer, respectively.


February 13th, 2015 at 12:16 PM ^


Thanks for the rich discussion of the wonderful songs we already have at Michigan. I was a member of the Glee Club during my time in AA and still break out the full gauntlet of Michigan tunes during football games. 

One correction, I believe that Michigan Remember was written in 2006 and that the lyrics were written around the same time as part of a lyric writing competition on campus. I couldn't find absolute proof online. 

Here is a performance, where they mention the lyrics competition.

Here is a daily article.




February 13th, 2015 at 12:24 PM ^

think they should give it a go but I agree the odds that eminem comes up with something uniquely Michigan are long at best.   Enjoyed the well written argument against. 

Hill Street Blue

February 13th, 2015 at 12:28 PM ^

trying their hand at adding to the rich Michigan musical tradition, go for it.  That's how it got to be a rich musical tradition in the first place, after all.  See if you can put something out there that the world will love and adopt as it's own.  What is galling about this current student effort is the hand held out at the public funding trough.  Where's your chutzpah, pluck, industriousness?  Perhaps the LSA Force is too strong for the young biz student?

When I went to MBSchool (pre-Ross), they taught you about free enterprise, the competition of ideas, capital markets, and how to make your mark in the world to make it a better place.  They did not teach you to go to the local government and ask for your funding. 

(Free MBSchool lesson follows here:) In fact, the MBSchool teaches you if you can't obtain debt or equity funding in the marketplace, then you don't have a very good idea.  The corrallary for the School of Public Policy types is that if you have an enterprise seeking government funds, it's already been rejected by the market and hence, is not a good, (or "sustainable" to put it in that School's lingo) idea.