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May 22, 2003
Bicentennial CD a loving tribute to Ohio University
By Joseph Hughes

Almost as old as Ohio University itself, Cutler Hall evokes a feeling of tradition among its visitors. Serving many uses since its construction beginning in 1816 - dormitory, classroom, museum, laboratory - Cutler Hall now houses the president and senior administration.

But for one day last November, the halls of the normally quiet, buttoned-down Cutler Hall became alive with the sound of music. Assistant professor of English Mimi Hart, a founding member of the vocal trio The Local Girls, joined more than 20 Cutler Hall staff on the chorus for a recording of "Old Manasseh Cutler."

Video - Click to Play Conducting Hart and colleagues was the building's most famous denizen, President Robert Glidden, who holds three degrees in music from the University of Iowa. His lead vocalist? Dean of the College of Fine Arts Raymond Tymas-Jones, himself an accomplished singer.

"We happen, coincidentally, to have a president who's a musician and who can conduct," says Hart, BA '71, MA '91 and Ph.D. '99. "We also happen to have a dean who's a singer, so it just seemed so natural. We happen to have a building full of lively, wacky people who said, 'Sure, let's all sing.' It just worked out beautifully."

"Old Manasseh Cutler," written around 1912 by C.N. Mackinnon and Carl Liggett, is a humorous retelling of the founding of Ohio University. It will appear on a Bicentennial CD brought about by collaboration between the University and The Local Girls, known for their tight harmonies, jazzy arrangements and spirited performances.

The disc, "Four Year Heaven: Ohio University Players and The Local Girls Present the Songs of Ohio University," grew from an article appearing in the Winter 2001 Ohio Today. Included with an article titled "Remembering the OU Revue" - held in 1939 - was an eye-catching photo of three women, singing.

Also intriguing to Hart was the mention of "Four Year Heaven," a song about attending Ohio University. She contacted Richard Buntz, AB '53, who had also read the article. Buntz soon sent Hart the sheet music for "Four Year Heaven," which still remained popular when he played in bands around campus.

This fortuitous journey through Ohio University history inspired Hart. With Ohio University's Bicentennial on the horizon, a CD of University-related songs could be a hit. "I thought, 'Gee, we should do this for our birthday,'" Hart says. "Let's celebrate and to celebrate, you have to have music."

Soon after her epiphany, Hart discovered a rich musical history at the University. Mary Elizabeth Lasher Myers, BSJ '42, pointed Hart in the direction of "The Campus is Lonely Tonight," a poignant number written by Helen Townsend Corns - with music by Ernie Mariani - in 1941 about University men leaving campus after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other noteworthy finds included a University songbook from 1938. In total, Hart's search turned up more than 40 songs.

"These are our songs and they were written by Ohio University affiliates - faculty, staff and students," Hart says. "I spent a year asking alums about their musical memories and found out these songs were performed quite often."

Rex Koons, lyricist for "Four Year Heaven," frequently played the tune when his big band performed at area dances. Other songs received repeated rotation from glee clubs as well as fraternities and sororities, which held yearly singing competitions. Still more could be heard at halftime of home athletic contests. Ask many Ohio University alumni from the 1940s or 1950s, Hart says, and they would likely cite their favorite, frequently sung University-related songs.

Not content to rely solely on history to form the album, Hart and The Local Girls sponsored an old-fashioned songwriting contest. Many famous Ohio University songs - including "Alma Mater, Ohio," written by Princeton graduate Kenneth S. Clark in 1915 - arose from such contests.

The contest's guidelines called for an original melody with new lyrics. Contained within the tune must be identifying University characteristics, places such as buildings, the Hocking River or activities - whatever stood out in the entrant's memory. Individuals with ties to the University must also have written the song, which required a timeless quality.

From numerous entries The Local Girls picked two winners. The Kathy Fagan Clark song, "The Green Hills of Athens," will join the album's other tracks. So, too, will Steve Zarate's "The Jewel of the Hocking."

"Each entry was strong, with a cool characteristic or a great hook," Hart says. "Both winners' songs are very well-crafted, with both lyrical and melodic charms. It broke my heart not to do more of them. Maybe next time!"

Hart says The Local Girls will perform half of the album's 14 songs. Other performers include the Marching 110, the Ohio University Jazz Ensemble, the Gospel Voices of Faith, the University Singers, members of AFSCME Local 1699, the Hotpoint String Band and many other University students and faculty. Hart hopes the disc, set for completion this September, will put a song in everyone's heart and a spring in their step.

"I want to share the musical culture of singing together that helped forge the college experience," she says. "And, I want to bring singing back to campus!"

How would Glidden rate Hart's initial efforts? "'Old Manasseh Cutler' may not be a musical masterwork, but it has clever lyrics and a catchy tune, so it was fun to participate and conduct a group of colleagues for this recording," he says. "We may not make the Hit Parade, but we'll make a small contribution to our bicentennial spirit."

Joseph Hughes is a writer for University Communications and Marketing. Susan Green, a writer for University Communications and Marketing, contributed to the story

 

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