Editor’s note: The College of New Jersey community was saddened by the loss of Franklin Grapel ’33, who passed away on July 25, 2013, at the age of 101. As an undergraduate at what was then known as New Jersey State Teachers College and State Normal School at Trenton, Grapel wrote the College’s Alma Mater. In 2001, he contributed the article below to TCNJ Magazine explaining how the song came to be.
A few thoughts regarding our ‘Alma Mater’
by Franklin Grapel ’33
When I entered college in 1929, I believe our school song ended with “The State schools, the State schools forever/ Three cheers for the Blue and the Gold.” I remember having to sing it, along with the other freshman men in the Clinton Avenue dormitory as part of our “initiation.” It was a good rhythmic song, but at that time the Normal School was being phased out, and we were soon to be in the process of becoming a four-year college, the State Teachers College at Trenton. Feeling that the words to the song would not fit the new status of the school, Miss Mabel Bray, chair of the music department, offered a prize of $25 for a new alma mater song.
As part of our curriculum, all the music students had voice lessons, usually taken in pairs. Sometime in 1931, I think, a fellow student, F. Van Lier Lanning, mentioned to Miss Bray during our voice class that I had the beginning of a tune that might make a satisfactory alma mater. There were no words, and only about four complete measures. When I played this fragment for Miss Bray, she thought it had possibilities. So, I was encouraged to write some words and complete the song.
My conception of alma maters leaned toward the Cornell song, which begins “Far above Cayuga’ s waters…” and is a sort of dignified hymn-like tune with words that express feelings for the college. The first draft of the text had to be shown to Dr. Charles Rounds, head of the English department. He made a few suggestions. One was that I hadn’t mentioned Trenton in the song, just “alma mater.” Thus the start of the second verse was revised to “Trenton College, Blue and Gold,” which now, of course, would be incorrect. Also, he noted that my “Thou will guide” was not in the correct style, so I had to change it to “Thou wilt guide.” He was correct, of course, but I’ve never liked this because the “t” followed by the “g” is hard to articulate when singing. Regardless of style, I still prefer “Thou will.”
Next the music was submitted to Mrs. Eleanor Sabary, our piano instructor. She thought it was good, with the exception of three ascending notes on “years unfold,” which lead to a different ending for the melody. I felt my notes gave the closing measures a more dramatic lift, but I was over ruled. Needless to say, I was angered by the change. Now, I’m not sure whether she or I was right.
At last, the song was finished, accepted, and printed. I was given the $25 (big money in those days), and the new alma mater was presented to the school by Miss Bray at one of our assemblies. The whole school sang back then. I did not attend, but could hear it, with mixed feelings, from one of the music rooms on the third floor.
I have been particularly pleased twice when I have returned to the College. At my 50th reunion, as I walked across campus, hearing my tune played on the carillon was an exciting surprise that stopped me in my tracks. Then in 1999, at the inauguration of President Gitenstein, I was really thrilled to hear the beautiful, intense rendition sung by Sarah McClean ’00, accompanied by The College Wind Ensemble….
Finally, some of the words written back in the ’30s have had a prophetic aspect that could not have been anticipated. Our college continues to shine “brighter as the years unfold.” In addition, even “though far our steps may lead,” we can never for get the enormous debt we owe for the guidance, education, and inspiration we received, and continue to receive, from our revered alma mater.
Words and Music by Franklin Grapel ’33
Arranged by Otto Helbig
Alma Mater, Blue and Gold!
Famous as in days of old!
Hearts we pledge that thou shall be
Shining thru eternity.
Brighter as the years unfold,
Alma Mater, Blue and Gold
TCNJ, Blue and Gold,
Thy brave spirit ne’er grows old,
And though far our steps may lead,
Thou will guide our thought and deed
On to heights as yet untold,
Alma Mater Blue and Gold.