The Many School Songs
of the V.I.

"Alma Mater floreat,
Quae nos educavit"


school song, like a school crest and a school flag, is a powerful rallying force for any school. Yet for the first four decades of its existence, through the stewardship of over a dozen Headmasters, the V.I. had no song it could call its own. That there was a need for one was indisputable, for The Victorian of August 1925 had lamented:

" ...Besides a crest, we need a school song. Will none of our talented Old Boys write one for us? There is a composer in England who has already told our president that he would be very willing to write the music, and as he has wide experience, we should hurry up and accept his offer. A suitable school song should be built up on lines similar to the Harrow School Song. It must be easy to learn and have plenty of good vowel sounds and should lend itself to singing. "

The Victorian had good reason to cite Harrow, one of Britain's top schools. Harrow School Songs (and there were some fifty in its Song Book) date from the nineteenth century. Old Harrovians are invited back to their alma mater at the end of each term to sing - often with nostalgic tears streaming down their cheeks - their corpus of School Songs, such as Forty Years On, Five Hundred Faces, Willow the King and The Voice of the Bell. On Speech Day at Harrow a dozen boys from each House sit in the choir-stalls and sing for their parents and visitors who fill the auditorium. Such is the power and reach of a School Song to rally, nourish and rouse the spirit of a school, long after school days are over.

Nothing happened after that comment until the 1941 when a School Song finally made its appearance, at least in the July issue of The Victorian. The following was printed in The Victorian without any comment or explanation:

Alma Mater
by John Worthington

1st verse

Your children are we, O Mother,
Tried by your testing and true;
Scaled to your love and none other
And benisoned yet by you:
Your children in joy and sorrow,
Leal to the days that are past.
We look to the glorious morrow,
And honour you to the last.

Chorus:-
Victoria…… Victoria.
Victoria…… Victoria.
Victoria……. Victoria.
Victoria……. In-sti-tu-tion.

2nd verse
Yours was the kindness that blessed us
And cherished our faltering days,
Yours was the hand that caressed us
And led through difficult Ways:
Now Love and Honour and Splendour,
Gifts from a bounteous store,
We yield to you, and we render
Our hearts' true homage once more.

Chorus:-
Victoria…… Victoria.
Victoria…… Victoria.
Victoria……. Victoria.
Victoria……. In-sti-tu-tion.

Alma Mater is Latin for Fostering Mother, a term used endearingly for one's old school or university. It can also refer to the alma mater's song as well. It is not clear who this John Worthington was, as he is not listed anywhere as a member of the V.I. staff. From the chorus, at least, the song does seem to have been specially tailored for the school. Unfortunately, no Old Boy can be traced who can shed light on the circumstances of this very first School Song.

There could only have been a few months for the V. I. Boys to sing this Song as war would soon engulf the whole region. In the immediate post-war period Alma Mater was consigned to the dust bin of history and the following new song was taught instead during Mr. F. Daniel's tenure as Headmaster:

 

The Old School
Words by G.C.S. Koch and Music by W.E. Meyer

Click here to listen to Dennis Loh's interpretation of The Old School



The Old School


1st verse
It was many years ago,
That our fathers built this school,
And they've wandered to and fro
But they've kept the olden rule;
It was many years ago,
And they've wandered to and fro,
But the noblest thing they know
Is the olden rule.

Chorus:
Oh, the old grey school,
Where the winding waters stream.
It's that old grey school
That abides within our dreams;
Yea, it's our old school
With the olden, golden rule
That none shall seek for glory
But the glory of the school.

2nd verse
It was long and long ago,
That our fathers loved this school,
And we loved it, even so,
For its wise and golden rule;
It was long and long ago,
And we love it, even so,
For the noblest thing we know
Is the olden rule.

3rd verse
From the days of long ago
Came the honour of our school -
Shall we let the great days go
And forget the olden rule?
From the days of long ago
Let us forward march and go
With our hearts and eyes aglow
With the olden rule.

Despite the imagery evocative of the British Isles, this song was by one Gerald Charles Sydney Koch, an older brother of V.I. Old Boy and pre-war teacher, Leslie F. Koch. Gerald Koch was himself a Victorian and taught English and other subjects at Gan Eng Seng School in Singapore in the twenties and thirties, ending up as Acting Principal for a short period in 1938. He was known to have a fondness for writing long, rambling poems in old-fashioned, obscure English, a trait rather evident in his effort above. He lived out his later years in England.

It would seem that only select classes were taught that song, as not all Old Boys of that era recall learning it. Even as The Old School was echoing in certain classrooms of the School, an announcement was made to some senior classes either in late 1948 or in early 1949 by Mr F. Daniel that the V.I. was to have a proper School Song, one befitting the country's best school. Enter Mr G. F. Jackson.

Mr Jackson had joined the V.I. in 1948 and had served in the Royal Navy during the war. He had an M.A. from Sheffield and taught English Literature to G F Jackson the senior boys. By all accounts, he was one of the better literature teachers the School had known, with a deep love of the theatre as well. His pupils recall that he loved to hear himself reading literary passages aloud, without offering much explanation! In 1950, he introduced to the V.I. a double literature course as an experiment, with seven, and later, ten books to be studied for the literature paper.

He was the School Swimming Master as well, but left most of the running to his capable Swimming Captain, Lim Hock Han. And in his final year in the V.I. he took on the mantle of Cricket Master too. Tall and lean, he was practically bald with some hair on the sides. His eyes were nearly always squinting, and he seldom smiled. But the serious and forbidding exterior hid a kindly soul. Given the task by Mr. Daniel of writing the School Song, Mr Jackson turned to Gaudeamus Igitur for inspiration and for the tune.

Gaudeamus Igitur, or sometimes simply Gaudeamus, is regarded as the oldest student song (author unknown) and alludes to the free and easy student life of medieval times. Its origin has been dated to the thirteenth century based on a Latin manuscript dated 1287 at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. (It should be remembered that Latin was the medium of instruction in universities in the Middle Ages.) A German translation of all the verses was made about 1717 by Johann Christian Günther beginning "Brüder, laßt uns lustig sein (Brothers, let us be merry)".

The oldest known version of the Latin words is in a handwritten student song book between 1723 and 1750 now at the Westdeutsche Bibliothek in Marburg. But it differs considerably from the modern Latin version, whose first known appearance is in Studentenlieder (Student Songs) by C. W. Kindleben, published in 1781. The first known printing of the present melody is in Lieder für Freunde der Geselligen Freude, published in Leipzig in 1788. Perhaps the first known appearance of the Latin words and the melody together was in Ignaz Walter's operatic setting of Dr Faustus, performed in 1794 in Hanover.

The melody of Gaudeamus is particularly well known to classical music lovers because of its inclusion in Johannes Brahms' Akademische Fest-Ouverture (Academic Festival Overture) Op. 80, composed in 1880 and first performed in early 1881. The overture is a medley of student songs that climaxes in a majestic rendition of Gaudeamus.

Click here to listen to an extract of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture. (Windows Media Player required)


Gaudeamus

Gaudeamus was among the songs featured in Old Heidelberg, a 1903 English version of a German operetta, Alt-Heidelberg, based on the story of a prince who falls in love with a commoner while studying at the University of Heidelberg. In 1924, Sigmund Romberg rewrote that musical as The Student Prince in Heidelberg, retaining Gaudeamus in the new repertory. This song was reprised in the 1954 movie version of Romberg's musical, The Student Prince, with Mario Lanza's golden voice doing the honours for Edmund Purdom. In numerous other movies with an academic flavour, including the 1937 Rosalie, the strains of Gaudeamus in the background often help set the mood. And every year in countless graduation ceremonies throughout the world, Gaudeamus is sung by the assembled graduands in keeping with a seven hundred year old academic tradition.

To get a feel of the theme of Gaudeamus, five of its many verses extracted from Kindleben's Studentenlieder are listed below with their English translation:

Gaudeamus

Gaudeamus igitur,
Juvenes dum sumus;
Post jucundam juventutem,
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus!

While we are young, let us rejoice
Singing out in gleeful tones;
After youth's delightful frolic
And old age so melancholic,
Earth will cover our bones.


Vita nostra brevis est,
Brevi finietur,
Venit mors velociter,
Rapit nos atrociter,
Nemini parcetur.

Life is short and all too soon
We emit our final gasp;
Death ere long is on our back;
Terrible is his attack;
None escapes his dread grasp.


Vivat academia,
Vivant professores,
Vivat membrum quodlibet,
Vivant membra quaelibet,
Semper sint in flore!

Long live our academy,
Teachers whom we cherish;
Long live all the graduates,
And the undergraduates;
Ever may they flourish.


Vivat nostra societas,
Vivant studiosi
Crescat una veritas,
Floreat fraternitas,
Patriae prosperitas.

Long live our society,
Scholars wise and learned
May truth and sincerity
Nourish our fraternity
And our land's prosperity


Alma Mater floreat,
Quae nos educavit;
Caros et commilitones,
Dissitas in regiones
Sparsos, congregavit;

May our Alma Mater thrive,
A font of education;
Friends and colleagues, where'er they are,
Whether near or from afar,
Heed her invitation.


It should be remembered that the V.I. School Song is NOT Gaudeamus, for the latter is, firstly, in a different language and it has an altogether different theme. Only the two tunes are similar but yet not identical: Gaudeamus' first two bars are repeated to give the first four bars of the V.I. version. Mr Jackson, therefore, borrowed and modified the original.

Singing the School Song And so having got the tune, Mr Jackson turned his literary gifts to the drafting of the words. In February, 1949, he was ready for a tryout with the boys. The entire School assembled in the Hall, each boy furnished with Jackson's verses, either in cyclostyled sheets or on scraps of exercise book paper copied earlier by hand from the blackboard. As recalled by Old Boy T. Wignesan, Mr Jackson pounded away on the piano as he ran the boys through the lines. The first try brought out squeaks (or rather squeals) in the boys as their singing voices struggled to life, and they took to laughing at their own pathetic efforts. The cacophonous first efforts of the boys must have discouraged Jackson, but he laboured on in missionary fashion and finally succeeded in coaxing all the pupils to sing collectively before the classes began. The Headmaster didn't have anything to do with the song except, of course, to give his blessings, and it was enough that Mr Daniel strode up and down the corridors of the hall for the V.I. pupils to keep check of their vocal chords.

There were three rehearsals in all. At the second attempt, after repeated efforts at a couple of verses, Mr Jackson called the whole thing off with his arms flailing in a conclusive breast stroke just at the beginning of the third verse. The copies the V.I. pupils had made of the song soon became practically Pianist - Conductor illegible, owing to the numerous changes made by Mr Jackson. But as Mr Jackson urged the boys on with his own rendering and editing (he did change a few words here and there, and reduced the number of verses from five or six to three), the Victorians gradually got their act together and the V.I. School Song took on its final form.

The very next week the V.I. boys were asked to sing the School Song for the first time at the School assembly. Mr. Richard Pavee - the school clerk, Old Boy and an amateur musician in his younger days - took over the keyboard, while Mr Jackson waved his hands to keep the boys in tune. It took another week or two before the V.I. pupils finally mastered the School Song to everyone's satisfaction. Mr. Pavee would man the piano for the next quarter century.

Mr Jackson left the V.I. in 1951 and went on to the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar. He was Headmaster of Anderson School in Ipoh from 1955 to 1956. In his place, Mr Chew Ah Kong, in his signature short pants and long stockings, conducted the weekly singing of the School Song until 1956, when he was succeeded by Miss Joan Floyd, the senior biology teacher. In 1958, diminutive Mr. Vincent Voo took over from her and - except for a hiatus of some three years when Mr T. J. Appadurai filled in - performed this weekly duty until 1971, making himself an institution in the process.

There was a minor change in the School Song when Malaya merged into a larger political entity, Malaysia. "Some Malaya's own sons" in the first verse quite automatically and effortlessly became "Some Malaysia's Puan Zainab own sons" after September 16, 1963.

In March, 1973, the Headmaster, Mr. Victor Gopal, wanted something for the forthcoming School Speech Day on the 28th to impress the Guest of Honour, who was none other than the Datuk Bandar of Kuala Lumpur, Tan Sri Ya'acob bin Abdul Latiff, an Old Victorian and pre-war School Captain no less. He thought a Bahasa Malaysia version of the school song might do the trick. So he called up Puan Zainab bt Yusop, the Senior Bahasa teacher, and gave her two or three days to come up with a Bahasa version. No excuses, she had to do it. Puan Zainab quickly went to work and after a few tries finally managed to craft a version that kept the Gaudeamus tune and the rhythm and the spirit of Jackson's words. It went:

Lagu Sekolah
Words by Zainab bt Yusop


Sanjungan didendangkan
Pengasas nan budiman
Sanjungan didendangkan
Pengasas nan budiman
Kerana jasa khidmat mulia
Yang mengharung samuderaya
Dan putera Malaysia
Kekal cita Victoria

Kenangan dilayangkan
Pada semua lepasan
Kenangan dilayangkan
Pada semua lepasan
Lain bangsa satu cita
Diingatkan pada semua
Ilmu zahir utama
Rohani pun setara

Ikrar pula lafazkan
Junjung sekolah pujaan
Ikrar pula lafazkan
Junjung sekolah pujaan
Dalam usaha gerak laku
Warisan lama dan baru
Bergandingan, bersatu
Hidup Victoria diaju

Puan Zainab took it to Mr. Gopal's office and showed him. The Headmaster sang it aloud to himself and declared that the words were even better than those of the English version. So on Speech Day, the School Choir - who had had a few days to learn the Bahasa words - rendered the song, to great applause, to the Datuk Bandar and his wife and other guests in the School Hall. Thus Puan Zainab's translation became the final entry in the repertory of V.I. School Songs.

Two school pianists In the seventies, various boys played the weekly piano accompaniment to the School Song, including Mahadzir Lokman (later of TV3 fame). Between 1978 and 1980, Mrs. Marina Tan, a teacher, pounded the keys. After her came a succession of more boys at the keyboard including Stanley Oh, Ngui Yew Choy, and Loh Kok Kin. These three, by a coincidence, were all sons of V.I. staff - Mr. Oh Kong Lum, a former Senior Assistant, Mr. Ngui Thiam Khoon and Mr Loh Kung Sing, respectively. In the nineties, an NCO member of the VICC Band would sometimes stand in front and wave his hands to coax the School along. Today, the musical accompaniment is provided by members of the V.I. Music Club using their own instruments and, except for special occasions, only the first verses of both the English and Malay versions are rendered.

Many are unaware that the words of today's Song differ subtly from those of the 1949 original, the result of cumulative errors in the repeated transcriptions of the Song over the years. Sometime in the mid-1960s, some unknown person made an error in transcribing one word in the second verse so that the line:

"For a school to each appealing"   has now become:
"For the School to each appealing"

The original school (referring to a school in general, and not just the V.I.) is not capitalised and so a school has a meaning subtly different from the School, which refers to the V.I.

In addition, in the third verse, the final line:

"Match with Old Victorians"   has mutated to:
"Match the Old Victorians"

Mr. Jackson had meant something else when he used with. The dictionary clearly explains the difference between "match with" and "match the".


Mozart myth

Then, starting in the eighties, there was circulated in The Victorian (and parroted with more and more embellishments in successive editions) a silly myth that the tune of the School Song was the work of eighteenth century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As a result, thousands of Victorians have passed through the V.I. actually believing that.

Fifty years on, Mr G. F. Jackson's soaring words and turn of phrase have a timeless quality. They evoke elements of that elusive "V.I. Spirit" - a deep grateful bow to the School's founders, a respectful nod to the seniors, a renunciation of pure textbook learning and, finally, a promise to uphold the school's name and to emulate the seniors' achievements. All that in only three verses.

From gawky teenagers to shuffling septuagenarians, individual memories of the V.I. consist of a myriad different sets of sounds and images. But the singing of Mr. Jackson's half-century-old School Song is the only shared experience that cuts across the generations. So, like the Old Harrovians half a world away, when Old Victorians get together, they, too, sing of their Alma Mater on the Hill. And tears do sometimes well in their eyes and stream down their cheeks too. Perhaps when Victorians, new and old, next sing their School Song they should do so with thankfulness and praise for those medieval students of the thirteenth century and for Mr G. F. Jackson, now long departed, for that unique School Song that is so much an inseparable part of the Victoria Institution.



 The School Song

The original 1949 version with exact words and punctuation by G. F. Jackson


Let us now with thankfulness
Praise the founders of our School.
Let us now with thankfulness
Praise the founders of our School
For their foresight and devotion,
Some who came across the ocean,
Some Malaya's own sons,
All true Victorians.

Let us next remember here
All who passed through this our School.
Let us next remember here
All who passed through this our School,
Not one race but one in feeling
For a school to each appealing
That instruction be not all
Nor this School just roof and wall.

Let us lastly pledge ourselves
Ever to uphold our School.
Let us lastly pledge ourselves
Ever to uphold our School.
In our work and in our leisure,
With such zeal and in such measure
That the new Victorians
Match with Old Victorians.

Click here to see the actual page with the School Song as printed in The Victorian of 1949
and in two sources from 1970 and 1993



Epilogue  

V.I. Founders Day, August 14, 2002. A special guest of honour was present at the school assembly that morning. He was Mr Vincent Voo, a V.I. teacher from 1958 to 1972. He had taught English and mathematics to the lower secondary classes and art to the third, fifth and sixth forms. He had been a House Master and advisory teacher to bodies like the Art Club, the Photographic Society, the School Choir, the V.I. Table Tennis Team and the Gymnastics Society at various times during his long stay at the school.

But every V.I. pupil of that era will vividly remember Vincent Voo for something else. At the end of each weekly assembly, Vincent would get up from his seat and step up to the edge of the stage. There would be a few seconds of hurried throat clearing from the boys below and then as Mr Pavee pounded out the first bars on his piano, Vincent would take the school through the verses of the school song. Except for a break of two years or so, he did it for at least ten years, a record no one has matched.


Vincent Voo

Now 30 years later, here was the same Vincent Voo again, a fit and alert sixty-six, on the stage he had last trod on in early 1972. This August morning, Vincent took a new generation of Victorians with him through the School Songs, first the Jackson original and then Zainab's Bahasa version (which had not been written in his time), six verses in all. Lending their voices in the audience would most certainly be many boys whose fathers once sang to this same Vincent Voo! The stories they must tell at their dinner tables that evening!

The seeds of this event had been planted the previous year when the School Captain, Benjamin Lim Tao Xiung, realized that V.I. boys and girls had been singing the School Song incorrectly, due to a number of mistakes that had insinuated themselves into the recorded versions and were being passed down unwittingly through the years. He made it his mission to schedule several singing sessions in 2001 to familiarize the whole school with the original words.

In June 2002, further impetus had come from members of the V.I. Music Society who realized that no official music score for the School Song actually existed. For years it had been in the heads of those pianists who played it during school assemblies. So the Society commissioned the school pianist, Wilson Loo Kok Wee, and his fellow junior pianists, Lee Lian Jen and Yeo Ming Shien to document the score officially. The original music and words as written by Mr G. F. Jackson in 1949 were then verified by a former school pianist, Loh Kok Kin, Mr. Vincent Voo and this writer.

The singing of the School Song over, Mr Vincent Voo was invited to officially present the framed music score of the School Song to the Senior Advisor for Student Affairs, Encik Othman bin Abdul Samad. The score was to be displayed in a prominent place, visible to all pupils, and copies would be stored in the V.I. Museum and the Library Archives as well. And so the original 1949 words have finally come home again, thanks to the efforts of a band of V.I. boys who cared about tradition and historical accuracy!

In early February 2003, ex-School pianist Loh Kok Kin on a visit to the School, was invited after the weekly school assembly to take the whole School through the correct version of the School Song. He spent an entire period working through the various nuances, pronunciations and pauses in the rendition of the Song. The V.I. boys were fascinated by how the accidental addition or modification of just one letter in a word could mutate the meaning of that word, and hence the Song itself. Though they struggled during the first try, by the second round they had improved by leaps and bounds, such was the capability and determination of Victorians to learn how their fathers and grandfathers once sang that same Song under the very same roof.



Click here to listen to the School Song
played by Wilson Loo Kok Wee, 2002 School Pianist
Duration: 1 min 21 secs. (Windows Media Player required)

Click here to view the Music Score of the School Song



VI The V.I. Web Page


Created on 19 February 2001.
Last update on 10 July 2006.

Contributed by:
Chung Chee Min