March to victory: free Nov. 13 pre-game talk, performance at Visitor Center to explore link between football and music

Rutgers University Marching Scarlet KnightsYou know it when you hear it: that insistent drum roll, the charging brass, bursting cymbals.

If you’re a Rutgers sports fan, the Rutgers Fight Song, aka The Bells Must Ring, is unmistakable. The muscular, driving march, with lyrics by Wimmian E. Sanford (RC ’31) and music by Richard Hadden (RC ’32), can elicit a variety of emotions and memories—depending, perhaps, on how the Scarlet Knights fared in their latest match-up.

Music can be a powerful tool. But will the right combination of notes actually nudge a football player to the end zone?

“Absolutely,” says George B. Stauffer, Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts and a music historian. He claims that the historical record has long linked music to combat, and, by extension, to the decidedly warlike game of football. He points to Claudio Monteverdi, the first known composer to articulate the association between music and battle and the first to demonstrate the power of that link, via his 16th-century madrigals of war.

Stauffer will discuss the connection between sport and music in “March Men of Rutgers! The Great American Football Song,” a free talk set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Rutgers Visitor Center, two hours prior to the Rutgers-Syracuse match-up. He will be accompanied by the 80-member Rutgers University Glee Club performing some of America’s favorite football songs. 

Stauffer says the golden age of football songs spans approximately 40 years, from 1890 to about 1930, when alums and students at the University of Michigan, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Rutgers were moved to compose fight songs. He points out that 1931’s jazz-inflected The Bells Must Ring reflects a style evident in popular music of the period.

According to Stauffer, the most effective football songs share a few key ingredients: “The melody must be simple and straightforward so people can sing it. It must be repetitive, to brand the song in a sense. The best football songs have snappy, march-like rhythms and local allusions to school colors or buildings.” Hence the Rutgers Fight Song’s nods to Old Queens and the scarlet banner.

Stauffer claims that The Bells Must Ring possesses all of those basic elements and more.

“The force of the song is so mesmerizing that audiences are drawn into it,” Stauffer says.

Need proof? Drop by Rutgers Stadium during any home game. Watch and listen as the fight song’s rhythm spurs the better part of more than 52,000 people to raise their voices in song, swell with Scarlet pride, and shout the phrases “RU RAH RAH! RU RAH RAH! HOORAH! HOORAH!”  

Stauffer says he hopes the pre-game talk and performance will leave the audience with a greater appreciation for the clever and nuanced qualities of American football songs, which are most often noted for their calls to physical violence.

“During the chant between verses of the Rutgers Fight Song, we say, ‘Red team upstream, upstream red team,’ ” Stauffer points out. He insists the catchy phrasing about struggling against the tide pertains to experiences both on and off the field.

“It’s a great metaphor,” Stauffer says, “for football and for life.”

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