Un-Alma Mater

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist

Happy new year from the Williston Northampton Archives!

Not long ago someone asked about school songs.  She was a bit surprised that Williston has had several “official” alma maters1 — that would be almae matris for the Latin purists among us — over the last century or so.   Many of us recall “God Preserve Our Alma Mater” (insufficiently secular for today’s Williston, and with a controversial tune), “Arise, Sons of Williston” (we’re fully coed; are our girls supposed to sit?), “As We Put Long Years Behind Us” (from Northampton School; includes the line “Our Girlhood Days Are O’er”), and a few others less memorable.  Today’s anthem of record is “O Williston,” also known as “Hail to Williston Northampton.”2  The traditional and ageless “Sammy,” of course, remains ubiquitous.  Long may we cherish it.  Him.  Whatever.

Richard Gregory
Richard Gregory

All these songs share a kind of sentimental reverence.  Well, almost all.  Back in 1966, when Williston Academy was celebrating its 125th anniversary, legendary music teacher Richard Gregory, no doubt cringing over the mawkish encomiums such events tend to inspire, penned the following lyric for the Caterwaulers.  The piece became one of their signature tunes during the sixties and into the seventies.

We need no songs about your Founder.
We mourn no matriarchal elm.
The mists of time that rise around her
Somehow fail to overwhelm.

Five hundred cynics, all austerely
Unsentimental every one.
We’d rather die than speak sincerely,
But when all is said and done,
We do confess we love you dearly,
You old relic, Williston!

The 1966 Caterwaulers
The 1966 Caterwaulers

Here’s the score.  Mr. Gregory would be quick to remind people that the music is not his own, but composed by Paolo Tosti (1846-1916), in an arrangement by fellow Yalie J. A. Paris.

un alma mater
Richard Gregory’s manuscript of “Un-Alma Mater.”

The present-day Caterwaulers don’t currently sing this, but that could change!

Alma Mahler, who has nothing at all to do with this post.
Alma Mahler, who has nothing at all to do with this post.


1Alma Mater means, literally, “beloved mother.”

2I regret to report that I have heard this quoted as “Hey there, Williston Northampton.” I am not making this up.

5 thoughts on “Un-Alma Mater”

    1. The Williston Academy hymn “God Preserve our Alma Mater” is superior to all the substitutes. We sang it often in chapel; and, I am still quite fond of it. I am sure that Henry Teller felt the same!

      1. Right on !!! I sing this today whenever I get there ! … all others pale ! … I remember fondly the Mt Hermon Concert of ’64 … Mr Teller out in front … excited as ever ! .. leading us in “Casey Jones…” .. those were good days !

      2. It also had the benefit of teaching us how to sing that other mid-20th century anthem with the same melody, as long as your German was good enough.

        What this article leaves out is that “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser,” like the national anthem, has parts unsuitable for the range of the average male voice, and most of ours were cracking at the time.

  1. I found out very late that Dan Carpenter was a mainstay at the Canadian branch of Keewaydin Camp, the Lake Dunmore, VT one of which I attended for three summers, and where, as a thirteen year old, I was electrified by the power of after-supper singing in the dining hall; a very large number of “tripping” songs, over time, had been penned to various traditional tunes, and the esprit de corps instilled was incredible, even spooky. Williston-Northampton should get up some, and take the torch from those caterwauls and make it a short ritual at dining commons time.

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