Centenary College of Louisiana Alma Mater

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The Centenary College of Louisiana Alma Mater was written in 1922; lyrics are by James Church Alvord.

hear it:
Alma Mater

Where the sleepy, silver bayou
Gleams among the pines,
Watching o’er the throbbing city
Alma Mater shines.

Forward, forward Centenary—
Time and tide may fail,
But our hearts shall love thee ever—
Centenary Hail!

Like a wave the mighty city
Surges ‘round thy feet.
Guide it, train it, teach it wisdom
Alma Mater sweet.

Green the boughs that rustle ‘round thee
On thy stately crest:
Greener is our mem’ry of thee—
Alma Mater blest.


About the Alma Mater

The term alma mater is from Latin, meaning “nourishing mother.” It refers either to the school, college, or university that one has attended, or the musical anthem of an institution of higher learning. It is the latter definition that concerns us.

The Centenary College alma mater is based on the song “Annie Lisle." “Annie Lisle” is the name of an 1857 ballad by Boston, Massachusetts, songwriter H. S. Thompson, published by Oliver Ditson & Co. It is about the death of a young maiden, possibly from tuberculosis, or "consumption"; but this is speculation. The song might have slipped into obscurity had the tune not been adopted by countless colleges, universities, and high schools worldwide as their respective alma mater songs.

Annie Lisle (1857)

Words and music by H.S. Thompson

Down where the waving willows
‘Neath the sunbeam’s smile,
Shadow’d o’er the murm’ring waters
Dwelt sweet Annie Lisle;
Pure as the forest lily,
Never tho’t of guile
Had its home within the bosom of sweet Annie Lisle.


Wave willows, murmur waters, Golden sunbeams, smile!
Earthly music cannot waken Lovely Annie Lisle.
Sweet came the hallow’d chiming
Of the Sabbath bell,
Borne on the morning breezes
Down the woody dell.
On a bed of pain and anguish
Lay dear Annie Lisle.
Chang’d were the lovely features
Gone the happy smile.


The first college to have used the tune in a spirit song seems to have been Cornell University. Circa 1870, students and roommates Archibald Weeks and Wilmot Smith wrote "Far Above Cayuga's Waters" and used an adaptation of Thompson's melody. Interested in creating a popular school song, the two quickly sketched out six verses by alternating each line between the two. The currently accepted lyrics differ slightly, likely the result of an arranger named Colin K. Urquhart who revised them for publication in the late 1800s.

Many other colleges, almost certainly influenced by Cornell's version, have since created their own renditions. They include: Acadia University, American University of Beirut, Centenary College of Louisiana, College of William & Mary, Davis College, Emory University, Indiana University, Lehigh University, Lewis & Clark College, Moravian College, Roanoke Bible College, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, Tennessee Wesleyan College, University of Alabama, University of Georgia, University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Vanderbilt University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

This song is the best-known alma mater in the United States. It is the only alma mater song included in Ronald Herder's 500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics (1998). The novelist, Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, supposedly called it "the saddest and oldest of all college songs." Edward Abbey, in One Life at a Time, Please (1988), mentions a campfire sing in which he contributed "the only Ivy League song that occurred to me: 'Far Above Cayuga's Waters.'"

Far Above Cayuga's Waters

Words by Archibald Weeks and Wilmot Smith

Far above Cayuga's waters
With its waves of blue,
Stands our noble Alma Mater
Glorious to view.


Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud her praises tell.
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater,
Hail, all hail, Cornell!

Far Above the busy humming
Of the bustling town;

Reared against the arch of Heaven,
Looks she proudly down.


The earliest publication of the text of the Centenary College alma mater occurs in the 1922 Yoncopin yearbook. This, incidentally, was the first year for Centenary to have a yearbook. The lyrics are printed, but no score. Above the lyrics there is a picture of James Church Alvord, the lyricist. In the faculty listings of the 1922 yearbook, Alvord is listed as: “James Church Alvord. B.D., A.M. Professor of Modern Languages.” The earliest publication of the alma mater score appears on the back of the 1924 Commencement Bulletin.

Consulting the College Bulletins (aka college catalogs) yields a few additional clues regarding Alvord. The earliest year his name appears on documents in the archives appears to be the 1921-22 College Bulletin. The next college bulletin is for the 1922-23 year. It lists Alvord as Prof of Modern Languages again, this time with his full educational background – “A.B. and A.M., Williams College; B.D., Andover; M.I.L., Emerson School of Oratory, Special student Madrid, Paris and Rome.” The next college bulletin in the archives is dated December 15, 1922. Once again Alvord is listed along with his educational background. The next college bulletin in the archives is dated May 1, 1925 and lists a new Prof of Modern Languages; Alvord is not mentioned.

The only known concert-setting of “Annie Lisle/Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” is by Charles Ives (1874-1954). This March “Intercollegiate” received its first performance in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 1897, by the combined New Haven and Washington Marine (i.e., U.S. Marine) Bands as part of the presidential inauguration celebrations for William McKinley. The composition possibly dates from 1892, written for the Danbury (CT) Band; Charles Ives was eighteen years old. The theme was considered to be “everybody’s Alma Mater.”

Sources consulted include: Wikipedia articles on “Annie Lisle” and “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters”; the “Cornell University Glee Club: Alma Mater” homepage; and various Centenary College of Louisiana Yoncopins, Commencement Bulletins, and College Bulletins.


Ronald N. Bukoff, Director of the Hurley Music Library and Associate Professor of Music and Chris Brown, Archivist