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With much love, a Hymn to Manchester

It was May 2000 and Wilson Lutz ’50, professor emeritus of chemistry, was inspired.

The Class of 1950 was celebrating its 50-year reunion and classmate Ruth Mangun ’50 Holland had written a reunion-perfect parody of Irving Berlin’s snappy Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Lutz mused: Why not write original words and music for the reunion? He then composed a hymn-like 16 measures in the key of C with just enough whimsy for entertaining the Class of 1950 at its “talent show.” A quartet debuted the music:

To thee Manchester College
we pledge our loyalty.
The grads of nineteen-fifty
will always honor thee.
And when the chimes of Sparta
ring out across the plain,
The warm spot in our hearts will swell
into a loving flame.

The second verse recalled Manchester presidents past:

The days of Schwalm are over
and Winger’s long been gone.
But Helman still is with us
and Parker forges on.
The years have wrought their changes,
The gray has settled in;
but college mem’ries fill our hearts,
and love for thee remains.

“A few months later, I had the naiveté to think that the musical part of the piece might serve as a basis for a college song of broader applicability,” recalled Lutz to a recent gathering during Alumni Days 2013 in Wine Recital Hall.

So in early summer 2000, he called upon his good friend Charles Klingler ’48, professor emeritus of English, to collaborate in a hymn honoring Manchester. Klingler worked through text verse by verse. “Wilson's first two lines were a solid beginning,” he observed to the Wine gathering. "I could go anywhere I chose from there."

That October, they copyrighted their collaborative composition. “I suppose we thought we were done,” said Klingler. Through the years, they tweaked and fiddled most thoughtfully. “I must say that, though we experimented with many changes, often vacillating between choices, what we now see is remarkably like the earliest versions,” he added.

They removed the 1950 class whimsy. They added the notion of value. They played with the theme of time. They tightened and clarified. They even changed how they addressed their alma mater, replacing “thou” with “you.” And then came a multi-syllable challenge: Manchester’s name change from College to University – a challenge they resolved by simply saying "Manchester."

There’s no chorus: “It never occurred to me,” said Lutz. “One explanation might be that my muse deserted me after the original 16 measures.”

Here’s the latest version. (Click here for the sheet music.)

Manchester, alma mater,
may we be ever true,
the friends and sons and daughters
who love and honor you;
for even strangers, pausing,
admire as they behold
a life imbued with value
exceeding that of gold.

We love to hear the stories
of women and of men,
of those who dreamed and shaped you;
we see them now as then,
and equal in affection,
in memory as clear,
professors who imparted
the learning we hold dear.

Though sons and daughters flourish,
too soon to fade away,
though tower, hall, and fountain
have but a longer day,
your river flows unceasing,
a simile sublime
of generations flowing
as on a stream of time.

We cannot see the future.
These moments we now live
are all that we are given,
are all we have to give.
And yet your past sustains us –
inspires to be and do,
and, O Manchester, ever more
to love and honor you.

Is this the final version of Hymn to Manchester? Klingler did not even hesitate to answer that question posed by his collaborator: “As someone has famously said, a work of art is never finished, but only abandoned. I want to keep my options open as long as I can.”

For their 2013 Alumni Days conversation about the collaboration, an octet of Manchester-true vocalists performed the latest, four-verse version of Hymn to Manchester. Debra Lynn, chair of the MU Department of Music, directed the a cappella debut: Lila VanLue ’79 Hammer, Emilie Hunt ’14, Marcie Coulter-Kern (associate professor of psychology), Kelly Iler ’14, Robert Bucher ’07, Steve Hammer ’77, Chris Garber ’77 and Jeremiah Sanders ’14.

The hymn writers were pleased.