The stories behind the music
November 25, 2019

The music and songs of Culver Academies are woven into the hearts of alumni, students, and faculty and staff alike as the soundtrack to unforgettable Culver days; and, perhaps, no song stirs memories so evocatively as the school’s official song, titled appropriately enough, “The Culver Song.”

But it wasn’t always so. The tune’s original title was “The Culver Alumni March,” and it was written by the famous father of Company E commander Herbert L. Clarke (1919). His father, also Herbert L., had departed a prestigious position as solo coronet player with the legendary band leader John Philip Sousa, to become a world-famous bandleader in his own right.

The elder Clarke was asked to write a school song, which he did, dedicating it to the class of 1919. The bandleader’s wife wrote an initial verse for the music and a contest was held during the 1921-22 school year, just before the song was published, to create more lyrics. Cadet Franz Montgomery of Montezuma, Indiana, won, adding two verses to those of Mrs. Clarke.

Montgomery’s first verse tells of entry to Culver, the second of graduation. The third verse, by Mrs. Clarke, is in the spirit of a Culver alumni, reflecting back.

Culver’s song catalog grew during the 1923-24 school year with the addition of a baccalaureate hymn, “Ye Men of Culver.” William J. O’Callaghan, a former Army band leader and Culver’s band director from 1918 through 1938, and also the father of Mary Frances England, founding dean of the Culver Girls Academy, composed the song along with Richard Durrett, a voice teacher and choir leader in the early 1920s at Culver.

A companion baccalaureate hymn, “Culver Daughters Sing Thy Praise,” debuted in 1978. It was penned by Dean England herself, with music by Culver’s then-organist Murray Foreman. The tune was amended in later years by past organist and carillonneur John Gouwens.

In 1996, another signature Culver song was added in honor of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Culver Girls Academy. “Treasured Memory” was written by CGA Dean Gay Hurst, who collaborated with students Margie (Raub) Vagell ’96 and Jessica (Bletzinger) Martin ’96. Gouwens composed the music.

Fred Waring

Perhaps not as well known to today’s Culver students, the time-tested “First Class Song” was written in 1938, 10 years after its composer, Paul Barada, became a member of the music department staff at Culver. He would serve for seven more years before his untimely death. He composed the words and lyrics — familiar to hundreds of cadets and known as the “First Class Song.” Barada wrote both the words and music to the piece, which floated over the airwaves nationwide during Final Ball in 1942, broadcast from the NBC radio studios in New York and performed by legendary bandleader Fred Waring’s orchestra.

Several of these compositions were amended through the years by Culver’s 41-year band director, Col. Edward Payson, who also wrote several of his own songs including the Woodcraft Marching Song and “1961 Band.”

Among the fight songs still reverberating on and off the fields of Culver is another O’Callaghan and Durrett joint composition, “Fight Fight Fight!” The popular football cheer was composed in 1925 at the request of one of the cadet cheerleaders. A year later, it was adopted by the University of Colorado with the chorus changed from “Fight Culver Down the Field” to “Fight CU Down the Field.”

To the tune of “Cheer for Old Amherst” is “Cheer for Old Culver,” a football fight song dating back to at least 1912.

And as the years go by, on or off the field, treasured memories of Culver’s songs continue to thrill generations of Culver students and alumni, no matter where they roam.

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