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Alma Mater

[Adapted from the Cornell Glee Club website.]

Cornell University has a rich tradition of songs dating back to shortly after students first arrived in 1868. Without a doubt, the two best known are the Alma Mater and Evening Song, frequently sung at the conclusion of Glee Club performances.

Listen to the Cornell Alma Mater

Far above Cayuga’s waters,
With its waves of blue,
Stands our noble alma mater,
Glorious to view.

Refrain
Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud her praises tell;
Hail to thee, our alma mater!
Hail, all hail, Cornell!

Far above the busy humming
Of the bustling town,
Reared against the arch of heaven,
Looks she proudly down.

Refrain

Download the sheet music for the Alma Mater here (PDF).

Written by two roommates around 1870, the Cornell Alma Mater is perhaps the most widely copied alma mater in existence. The original melody was taken from a melancholy ballad, Annie Lisle, written by Boston musician H. S. Thompson in the late 1850s. Although Cornell is believed to be the first school to have used the melody for its alma mater, it has since been copied by high schools and universities around the world, including Indiana University, the University of Missouri, the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina, and even the American University in Beirut.

Cornell’s lyricists were Wilmot M. Smith, class of 1874, and Archibald C. Weeks, class of 1872, who lived at 60 North Tioga Street in Ithaca while attending Cornell. Interested in creating a popular school song, the two quickly sketched out six verses by alternating each line between the two. The currently accepted lyrics differ slightly from theirs, probably due to an arranger named Colin K. Urquhart who revised them for publication in the late 1800s.

Although only the first two verses are typically sung, all six can be heard in Lynah Rink at the last home hockey game of the regular season. If you are interested in learning more about the Alma Mater’s unique history, you may purchase The Story of Cornell’s Alma Mater at the Cornell Glee Club’s Online Store.