New UBC pep song something to cheer about

The best part of UBC’s new pep song may very well be the shouting.

“It’s pretty easy to sing along,” says composer Steve Chatman, a professor in the UBC School of Music. “You just have to remember to shout ‘hail.’ ”

That UBC even has a pep song – let alone a newly recorded one – may prompt some surprise. University fight songs are rare in Canada, where the tradition isn’t held as dear as in the United States. At UBC, an older version of Hail UBC that’s been kicking around since the 1930s wasn’t even suitable to be played over the loudspeakers at games.

This proved troubling to UBC associate athletic director Steve Tuckwood and former athletic director Bob Hindmarch, who last year began asking around for a new version of “Hail UBC.”

They quickly found Chatman, a Juno-nominated and internationally renowned composer, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional fight songs.

“We set up a meeting, and about five minutes in, Steve said, ‘You’re looking for something like this?’ He went over to a piano and started playing every fight song he knew,” Tuckwood says. “He just knew them all.”

And while one may think a pep song composed in 2009 would be a more modern take on the traditional format, Chatman’s done the opposite.

His new take on Hail UBC is a throwback to the pomp and bluster of the early 1900s, when such pep songs were in their heyday.

“The pep song or fight song tradition goes back even to the 1890s,” says Chatman. “Most of these pep songs, and there are some really good ones, were written around 1900 or 1910. The traditional ones, like the University of Notre Dame’s, they were all written early. There is a certain style that’s unique to those times.”

The former Hail UBC was written in 1931 by Arts student, trumpet player and band leader Harold King. Chatman calls it “more of a swing tune” than a rousing fight song.

“It’s fine, but it’s not really a pep song,” Chatman says. “It’s kind of a tune you’d do with a jazz combo.”

“We needed something that can inspire spirit and pride at athletic events and throughout the UBC community,” Tuckwood says. “Something like that gets ingrained in people’s heads and builds a lasting legacy and tradition.”

The new version, recorded in September at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, retains only the title of the original 1931 version.

The song was recorded by the UBC Wind Ensemble, directed by Robert Taylor, produced by Karen Wilson and engineered by David Simpson. One short version was recorded with a full wind ensemble, including piccolo, oboe, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, baritone, horns, tuba, saxophones and percussion. The other, with combined band and 100 voices of the UBC Opera Chorus is by director Nancy Hermiston, the UBC Singers, and director Graeme Langageris longer and intended for ceremonies.

The version that will get the most use is the 20-second-long “stinger,” to be played after the UBC Thunderbirds score a goal.

“It’s supposed to be inspirational, so the team can feel good hearing it after they score,” Chatman says.

“And hopefully the other team will feel bad,” he adds with a laugh. “Of course, the more UBC scores, the faster the song will catch on.”

Chatman’s interest in the sub-genre of university pep songs stems from his visits to football games at the University of Wisconsin as a child. At the University of Michigan, where he did graduate studies, he remembers cheering along with UMich’s iconic song, “The Victors.”

That song was reportedly called the “best fight song of all time” by composer John Philip Sousa.

The new “Hail UBC” made one of its first appearances at a recent women’s hockey game that the Thunderbirds won 4-1.

“By the fourth goal, people in the stands were singing along,” says Tuckwood. “It’s infectious.”

“I wanted to have a song that was traditional enough that wouldn’t go out of style. The only modern part about this one is when it was composed and recorded.”