Whenever I grace an event at a higher education institution (HEI), I look forward to hearing the school hymn. I am neither a music expert nor a playwright but an ordinary observer with these expectations to a school hymn: 1. cleverness (how the composer/s and/or lyricist/s summarized the institution’s vision-mission, ideals, values, and history in a creative way); 2. moving power (that even a non-member of the institution can draw inspiration from the melody and lyrics); 3. peculiarity (because I noticed some school hymns share melodic and lyrical patterns); and 4. statement (has a strong message).
The following is my list of thirteen beautiful HEI hymns in the country (in no particular order).
1. “Western Mindanao State University Hymn.” Written and composed by former Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) College of Education Dean and soprano Angelina G. Aquino in 1978, the hymn manifests the HEI’s hope for a better and peaceful Mindanao. The text of the hymn is more of an ode to the HEI and emphasizes what the institution must be (i.e. as in the line “The Pillar of peace and unity…”). It is also peculiar because it reminds people of the institution’s origin in the line “She whispers the tune of the OLD NORMAL SCHOOL” (all caps in original, stressing the HEI’s proud beginnings as Zamboanga Normal School 113 years ago).
2. “Awit ng NTC.” The lyrics of the hymn of the National Teachers College (NTC) is bursting with symbolisms about light. Written in Filipino, the hymn seems invoking Jose Rizal’s thoughts in his 1876 poem “Por la Educación Recibe Lustre la Patria” (‘Through Education the Country Receives Light’) that the people has to enjoy, love and make use of the light the education emits. The opening line of the hymn describes the future educators as bearers of the “tanglaw” (literally ‘torch,’ symbolizing education) the school has entrusted to them. The succeeding lines tell the role of the said torch bearers as keeper of the fire of liberty, of the hope in the heart of the Filipino people, and of the light in the East (the Philippines).
3. “The Mindanao State University Hymn.” Also known as “Himno ng Pamantasang Mindanao” (‘Hymn of the Mindanao University’) and colloquially “Silahis” (from the first word in the hymn which means ‘beam of light’), the “Mindanao State University Hymn”was composed by National Artist Lucio San Pedro. It is not surprising that the hymn is in Filipino because its lyricist, Angelito G. Flores, former Dean of MSU College of Arts and Sciences, is known in the academe for his masters thesis about the history of Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (now the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino) at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Flores translated to Filipino the name Mindanao State University poetically by referring to it as “Pamantasang Mindanao” (literally ‘Mindanao University’). (When I attempted to translate to Filipino my alma mater’s hymn, “Bulacan State University Hymn”, I used the same poetics by translating the first line of the hymn “Bulacan State University” as “Minamahal naming Pamantasan” [literally ‘Our beloved University’]. The translation, by the way, is not official.) The text of the lyrics is also ode-like, glorifying the HEI’s being as the bearer of hope in Mindanao (metaphorically described as “silahis“).
4. “Himno del Colegio de Letran.” The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Hymn is the rarest of its kind in the Philippines, for it is still being sung in the old language of instruction of the country for centuries, Spanish. (Colegio de Santa Rosa Cavite is another school in the country with hymn sung in Spanish. Previously, Centro Escolar University’s hymn was also in Spanish.) The hymn reflects the history of the HEI from the point of view of the time it was written and composed–which was after World War II–by renowned music professor Julio Esteban Anguita, a Spaniard born and raised in the Philippines. The hymn takes pride of Letran’s alumni who conceived, built and led the Filipino nation (“Tantos hombres ilustres formar,” or ‘To mould so many illustrious men’). The new music video of the hymn encapsulates the Letran community’s excitement for its 400 years in 2020. Letran’s website has a student-friendly page where it passes on to the new generations of Letran students the school’s musical heritage.
5. “A Homespun Refrain.” True to its title, this university hymn of Bukidnon State University (BukSU) is unsophisticated yet profound. The lyrics narrate the inspiring environment of Bukidnon and the people’s confidence in pinning their hope in BukSU, citing its history of producing leaders, brave hearts, seekers of truth, and lovers of life (“Lay your history of great lives/ They have soared as the freeborn eagles/ Beyond the reach of Kitanglad heights”). The text compared BukSU with agoho or maribuhok (pine tree, Casuarina equisetifolia) that abounds Malaybalay. The song was introduced when the HEI was elevated to a university status in 2007. It was written by Rowena F. Egargo, with melody composed by Mercibelle Abejuela, cultural affairs office director of the HEI.
6. “Silliman Song.” Probably the longest HEI hymn in the country, this university hymn of Silliman University will turn 100 years in 2018. It was written by Dr. Paul Doltz, 99 years ago, adapting the melody of his alma mater’s hymn, “The Orange and the Black” of Princeton University. The lyrics describe the environs of Silliman “beside the sea” of Dumaguete and the school life, creating this sentimental and reminiscing feel among the university’s old and present members.
7. “You’ll Be in My Heart Forever.” On why the hymn of Technological Institute of the Philippines in Manila more sounds like a theme song (or a graduation song)? It’s because it was written and composed by no other than Nonong Pedero (also known as Dero Pedero or Prudencio Pedero, Jr.), famous for his composition “Narito Ako, Umiibig” popularized by Regine Velasquez, “Isang Mundo, Isang Awit” popularized by Leah Navarro, the theme songs of Miss Earth and Binibining Pilipinas, and the “We’ve got it all for you!” jingle of SM. Even though it lacks playful, martial, and idealistic spirit (which Pedero’s composition “TIP Fight Song” has), “You’ll Be in My Heart Forever” still has these attributes typical to a school hymn: reminiscent and poignant.
8. “West Visayas State University Hymn.” Sung alternately with “West Visayan State University March,” this hymn was adapted by the West Visayas State College (now State University) in 1970 as a belated celebration for the elevation of the school to college status five years earlier. It was originally a poem written in 1969 by Adelina Zerrudo entitled “From a Dream,” pertaining to the establishment of the Iloilo Normal School in 1902. From that dream normal school, the hymn expresses “a university grew” in 1986. (Original lyrics read “a college grew.”) Musician Romulo Pangan later set Zerrudo’s poem to music, and was first sung in a graduation rites in 1970. In its 2010 article, blogsite Yeksistence documented the story behind the hymn: that Zerrudo was inspired by the Philippine Revolution and our heroes’ struggle for independence in the line “Out of darkness, faith renew…”; and by the moon landings of 1969 in the line “Let genius bridge the Earth and boundless sky…” In this hymn, it is the university who speaks, with her hopes that her products fulfill their tasks, as in the last line for “the youth their tasks fully done” and “find their rightful place ‘neath the sun.”
9. “Imno ng PUP.” Written like an ode, this university hymn is a song of gratitude and praises to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) by its grateful community and alumni. (Imno is the correct pronunciation of the Spanish load word himno.) The nationalist lyrics of the hymn reflects the liberal character of PUP since 1969, ignited by the decolonization efforts to Philippine education by its former president Dr. Nemesio Prudente. (Journalist Isabelo Crisostomo said in his The Sunday Times Magazine article “The Philippine College of Commerce: A New Center of Activism” (2 November 1969) that Prudente attract “some of the nation’s most aggressive nationalists and ideologues” to teach at PUP, then Philippine College of Commerce (PCC) located at Lepanto Street (now Loyola Street), Sampaloc, Manila. It makes sense because historian Amalia Rosales told me that the hymn was adapted by the university during Prudente’s second term as the HEI’s president in 1987. Rosales added that Prudente found the “PCC Hymn” obsolete, so he tapped Maestro Siegfredo Baldemor Calabig, a Paete-born conductor of PUP Banda Kawayan, to write the lyrics in Filipino; Rafael “Raffy” Amaranto, conductor of PUP Bagong Himig, to set Calabig’s text to music; and pianist Susan Roldan to do the accompaniment. In memory of the old hymn, Rosales further noted that Calabig incorporated some of the lines from the “PCC Hymn.”
10. “UP Naming Mahal.” Probably the oldest HEI song in the country, “UP Naming Mahal” was a composition of Kundiman master Nicanor Abelardo in 1917. It was first sung in English as “UP Beloved,” written by Teogenes Velez of the University of the Philippines. (Consulting various sources about Teogenes reveal that he was already in the UP College of Law in 1917 when he wrote the lyrics, contrary to popular belief that he was still a liberal arts students then. A volume of 1917 Philippine Law Journal states Teogenes is a Master Musician of the College of Law Musical Club. His cousin, Manuel Velez, by the way, was the composer of the Visayan song “Sa Kabukiran.”) According to historian Ernesto V. Epistola, Abelardo composed the melody in a matter of minutes, a proof to his genius. In 1964, UP Music professor Hilarion Rubio and Liberal Arts professor Tomas Aguirre translated the university hymn to Filipino. Both the English and Filipino lyrics are in a form of a pledge to be loyal products of the national university and that they will live by the idea that the youth as the “pag-asa ng bayan” (“hope of our dear land” in original text), reliving the words of Jose Rizal “Bella esperanza de la Patria Mia!” (‘beautiful hope of my country’) in his 1879 poem “A la juventud filipina” (‘To the Filipino Youth’).
11. “Notre Dame Hymn.” The hymn of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City is quite interesting, for it contains nationalistic lines such as “We’ll work for God and our Philippines,” “Proud of our flag and all that it means,” and “We’ll always love thy glorious name/ For country and Notre Dame”). Its melody is in martial tempo, with some melodic stock phrases reminiscent of the old “Presidential March” (also known as “Mabuhay March”). Nevertheless, in solidarity with all schools named after Notre Dame (literally “Our Lady,” pertaining to Mary, mother of Jesus Christ), NDU recognizes the “Notre Dame, Our Mother” as its primary university hymn.
12. “Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan School Hymn.” Excellence and competitiveness are the two common themes among school hymns; but this one, locally known as “University Hymn,” sings Christian values of love, sacrifice, compassion, and service. The first stanza opens with invocation of the name “Xavier, Alma Mater,” followed by the line containing the idealism the school is expecting her students to be: “You have taught us to pay the price/ To be men for God and Country/ To prepare for sacrifice.” Then the succeeding lines contain the hopes of Xavier’s products that they may live the values ingrained by her in their characters. The second stanza, on the other hand, is more of a reminder to Xavier’s products to always live the Christian way.
13. “San Carlos College Hymn.” Not as pompous as most of HEI hymns, this hymn of San Carlos College in Pangasinan has a competitive undertone that the products of this provincial HEI can march proud under her name (“March proud for all the world to see”). Yet the melody is charming that it gently sets aside the fierce air. The hymn is also unpretentious as it promises nothing grandeur but to work for the best (“So whenever we shall choose to rest/ We promise to do our utmost best”).
Postscript. Definitely there are more beautiful school hymns out there. Comment your own alma mater hymn below and let others hear and appreciate it.
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There are HEIs which have beautiful commemorative songs used during their milestones, e.g. centenary, sesquicentenary. Here are my three bonus commemorative songs.
Holy Angel University Diamond Jubilee Song (2008). Composed by Edwin Lumanug (from the famous family of musicians in Guagua, Pampanga) and written by Robert Tantingco, a renowned culture and history writer, this commemorative song of Holy Angel University in Angeles City for her 75th founding anniversary reflects on her role in the economic, social and cultural development of Pampanga and the country. The lyrics acknowledge the role of the reciprocal culture the school wants to take pride, embodied in the line “Everyone here is a teacher, and every one is a learner, at Holy Angel University the classroom has no walls.” It also invokes the memory of the HEI’s founders, the philanthropist Juan de Dios Nepomuceno and Bishop Pedro Santos. Unfortunately, the HEI did not upload on YouTube the official music video of their diamond jubilee song.
“Ako’y Isang Tomasino” (2010). “Ako’y Isang Tomasino” (‘I Am a Thomasian’) was the official theme song of the 400th anniversary of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 2011. It was composed and written by a Thomasian Gerry de Leon who bested all the entries to the Q Songwriting Contest in December 2010. The song cleverly reminisces the experiences the oldest university in Asia had been through and withstood such as wars, natural calamities, and political and social changes. The role of UST in the conceiving and birthing of the proud democratic Filipino nation–the first in Asia–is also remembered in the lines “Tinamnan ng tama, puso’t isipan, mga bayaning sa silong mo ay nanahan” (‘[You] instilled what is right in the hearts and minds of the heroes who made you a home’) (translation is mine).
“One La Salle Anthem” (2011). Although De La Salle University (DLSU) did not produce centennial theme song in 2011, this theme song of the 5th Congress of the World Union of Lasallian Former Students held in Manila in that year was played during DLSU’s centennial concert. The song perfectly captures the competitive spirit of DLSU in a groovy and animated air (the very idea of the famous battle cry of the HEI, “Animo” [‘spirit’]). The theme song takes pride the Lasallian Vocation of “spirit of faith, zeal for service, and communion in mission” which binds all Lasallian schools in the country as one, thus the birth of the idea of “One La Salle.” The song was a collaboration of Lasallians Juan Miguel Salvador, Bro. Bernie Oca, FSC, and Antonio Atayde, Jr.