“Slinging The Ink”: A Musical Mystery Tour

Treble Clef-?The Summer 2013 issue of Bowdoin Magazine carried a short article entitled “Our Dear Alma Mater: A Brief History,” on page fourteen that chronicles the transition from “Bowdoin Beata” to “Rise, Sons of Bowdoin,” to “Raise Songs to Bowdoin” as the current College alma mater. We know who wrote the lyrics to these songs and who composed the music. They are clearly Bowdoin property. But another old Bowdoin favorite has a much more mysterious history.

In 2012, Terry Stenberg ’56 was working on an orchestration of a medley of Bowdoin songs entitled “Remembering Tilly.” Terry contacted me to ask if I could establish the composer of the melody of “Beneath the Pines,” (often better known by its repeated words, “Slinging the ink.”) I had noticed that no arrangement of the song ever appeared with a composer’s name in any Bowdoin songbook but at the time I assumed that one could be found. After more than a year of research I have concluded that we have an unsolved mystery about the origin of the tune for this song.

For those who are not acquainted with “Beneath the Pines,” here are the complete lyrics as they appear in several Bowdoin songbooks:

Beneath the pines of dear old Bowdoin
We were slinging the ink and kidding the profs along.
Beneath the pines of dear old Bowdoin
We were slinging the ink and kidding the profs along.

Steeped in the tradition of our glory-covered past
We Bowdoin men will march again with courage firm and fast.
Our colors are the black and white, our symbol is the sun;
And we’ll be true, we’ll fight for you until the vic’try’s won.
Oh, as we go marching,
Hear the song we sing with pride to you
O Alma Mater Bowdoin,
Our love for you will ever stronger grow.

The Bowdoin Glee Club (a men’s chorus that existed until about 1970) used to sing a remarkably polyphonic arrangement of this song that I later rearranged for the Bowdoin Chorus (a mixed group of about 70 singers). The melody that goes with “Steeped in the tradition of our glory-covered past…” is sung simultaneously with the opening melody that accompanies “Beneath the pines of dear old Bowdoin.” Likewise, the section that begins with “Oh, as we go marching…” has a melody that is sung with “We were slinging the ink…” This is fairly sophisticated musical composition and it should have been given proper credit when it was performed. A search through old Glee Club recordings at least provided the arranger’s name: Prof. Russell F. Locke, who taught in the Bowdoin Music Department from 1948 to 1953. The lyrics appear to have been written by Allan F. Hetherington, Jr. ’54 although Art Grove ’54 wrote me that Hetherington was the author only of the second section that starts with the words, “Steeped in the tradition of our glory-covered past.”

It’s my guess that Prof. Locke provided the counter-melodies that use Hetherington’s lyrics. But the mystery deepened. After obtaining Prof. Locke’s address in Troy, NY, I wrote to him asking where the original tune came from. Two months later I received a jovial reply from his widow, JoAnn Bayrich Locke, informing that Prof. Locke had died on July 15, 2013, and that she knew nothing about where he found the tune.

As the search continued for a composer we discovered that there was a remarkable similarity between “Beneath the Pines” and a song still in the current repertoire of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, founded in 1851. I happen to have a colleague who graduated from Coe, Prof. Nile P. Norton, who was helpful in obtaining a copy of the song. The melody is different from “Beneath the Pines” but the rhythm is similar. What was striking is the appearance of “slinging the ink”.

Here are the lyrics to “I Want to Go Back to Coe Again,” which is subtitled “Sling-a-de ink”:

I want to go back to Coe again
The college of the West;
Back to Voorhees Hall once more,
The Chapel and the old book store,
I want to go back to Coe again,
The college of the west,
I want to go back,
I’ve got to go back to Coe again,
In old Coe College in Cedar Rapids
We slinga-de ink, and pusha-de pen along.
In old Coe College in Cedar Rapids
We slinga-de ink, and pusha-de pen along.

A nearly identical song turned up at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska founded in 1891. It appears that someone took the Coe College version and substituted a few new words that name buildings at Union. The melody is identical and the refrain is remarkably similar:

Slinga de ink, Slinga de ink,
pusha de pen, pusha de pen,
Slinga de ink and pusha de pen along,
At Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska,
We Slinga de ink and pusha de pen along.

Prof. Norton’s wife, Sarah, helped with further research and found the song in the library of Mary Hardin Baylor University in Belton, Texas, founded 1845 under a different name. Townsend Memorial Library at that institution lists in its catalog a collection of songs that includes “Slinga de ink” and states that each song in the collection has a written history about it. I requested the songbook through interlibrary loan and was disappointed when I was informed that the University would not lend it.

Then Prof. Norton made a significant discovery: his alma mater’s song “I want to go back to Coe again,” had been adapted from Ohio State University where it is called “I want to go back to Ohio State.” A website at OSU mentions that the song “owes its roots to ‘The University of California Drinking Song,’ which “combines melodies from three songs. The most recognized melody comes from the song ‘Oh, didn’t he ramble,’ written by Will Hanby with collaboration of ragtime musicians Cole and Johnson in 1906. Later that year, the California Drinking Song was written, by an unknown author using the chorus portions of ‘Oh didn’t he ramble’…The first nine lines of ‘I wanna go back to Ohio State’ use the melody of the song ‘I want to go back to Michigan’…written as a drinking song about student life at the University of Michigan about 1913. It features a tavern called Joe Parker’s Saloon, which was located in the first floor of the Catalpa Hotel in Ann Arbor (circa 1913-1920). It also features The Orient, a combination cigar store and barber shop which was located on the first floor of the long defunct Oriental Masonic Lodge.”

Readers who would like to hear the “I want to go back to Ohio State” can listen to it online here. What’s tantalizing about all this is that “I want to go back to Ohio State” does not include “slinging the ink.”

According to Richard Adkins of the Fisher Music Library at Coe College, “The [text of] first verse appeared in 1910 and is attributed to John B. Parker, head of the music department. A second verse appeared a short time later (no date). No credit is given for the musical composition of the first part of the song. The “slinga the ink” portion was not part of the original song but added later. An apocryphal story says that a foreign student may have suggested the sling-a-the-ink tag section later, and that it was from a radio jingle. We have no written proof of this, however… Evidently it was not uncommon for schools to ‘borrow’ songs to put their own words to them.”

Anthony Antolini '63

Anthony Antolini ’63

At the same time I enlisted the help of my colleague, Sean J. Fleming, accompanist for the Bowdoin Chorus. Sean researched Bowdoin’s sources and discovered the book Songs of Bowdoin includes “Beneath The Pines”, and has “Music copied by Harry Smith; reproduced from holograph.” This might well be the Harry Smith who was a well-known music historian and collector of American popular music. Could it be that Prof. Locke found the tune in Smith’s collection and used it to set “Beneath the Pines?”

I then enlisted the help of Donald B. Snyder, ’50, who now lives in Chartres, France. Don, a member of the Meddiebempsters and Glee Club provided this fascinating detail: “While at Bowdoin (’46-’50) I was a member of Zeta Psi, one of the stronger ‘singing fraternities’, and this ditty was among the old chestnuts that we all sang in the dining room frequently.  It was not a very popular number, I believe, but it became so after it was arranged by Professor Locke.  I think Russ Locke came to the college sometime in the latter half of this period, and, like Tilly, was a frequent if not honorary member of the fraternity – where he would undoubtedly have picked up the tune.  It was certainly during his tenure that this song moved from “casual” to “official” in the Bowdoin repertoire.”

That’s where the musical mystery tour stops. Readers with clues are encouraged to write in with anything that may help us determine who actually wrote the tune to “Beneath the Pines.”

 

Anthony Antolini ’63 is Senior Lecturer in the Bowdoin Department of Music and Director of the Bowdoin Chorus. He can be reached at aantolin@bowdoin.edu or 207 725-3347.

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