When Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University consolidated to become the University of North Georgia earlier this year, the need for a new school song became clear. And after working as a music professor at the same institution for 31 years, Joe Chapmam took the task of writing the school’s alma mater very seriously.
He said the idea made sense since both schools had their own unique alma mater and choosing one over the other felt “inappropriate.”
Chapman was honored with the responsibility of writing the music. Because he had been employed by the Dahlonega institution for most of his career, the job was all the more important to him.
“I have worked with these kinds of things all my life. It’s a part of what I do professionally,” Chapman said. “But when you’re tasked with setting something that is that important and you know will be performed before thousands and thousands of people over a long period of time, it’s a task that you don’t take lightly.”
But he couldn’t start the process until the song had lyrics.
The school had a contest to find the words for the new song. Nancy Hanson, administrative assistant to the dean of the Mike Cottrell College of Business, heard about it and decided to accept the challenge.
Hanson, who said she’s been a writer all of her life, set to work on writing the lyrics. The five-year employee at the Dahlonega campus said she wanted to make sure the lyrics expressed the school’s core values, diversity, campuses, colors and, of course, its Corps of Cadets program.
“I think you have to have a real sense of loyalty to any university to write something like that, because it does come from the heart,” said Hanson, whose son graduated from the Dahlonega institution. “And I am loyal to this university.”
Hanson said she felt like her lyrics represented the school well but had no idea if the words would work set against music. Chapman also had concerns.
“I didn’t know how those lyrics were going to turn out,” Chapman said. “Because it could have been something like an E.E. Cummings poem with free verse that might be very, very difficult to set to music and be sung by masses of people.”
When Chapman read Hanson’s winning lyrics however, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“They were in a good poetic meter, so I was like ‘Whew, oh OK we (can) work with this.’ I was quite excited to do that.”
Chapman then spent a few days looking at the words and thinking about how the music might work with them.
“I woke up a little before 6 in the morning and the tune sort of popped into my head,” Chapman said. “And I said ‘Oh I can work with that.’ And by 8:30 I had the majority of it on paper.”
After a few days of tweaking the tune and adjusting some of the words for an extra syllable here and there, the alma mater was complete.
Hanson said she recalls feeling honored the first time she heard the finished song.
“I just felt a great deal of pride,” she said. “It is such an honor. It’s something you hope will be your legacy for the university and it will be there after you’re gone.”
Chapman said he, too, feels happy with the result.
“I like it and if I didn’t that would be rather sad,” Chapman said, laughing.