By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Feb. 10, 2014 — We of the musical composing team of Mariska & Offenburger have given our all for ol’ Cottey College, the all-women’s school in Missouri owned by the all-women’s organization P.E.O. And we now turn over to the Cottey students, faculty and staff — as well as to our readers here — what we think is a fine new fight song.
You may recall how, back in mid-January, I had been asked to speak to a luncheon of the P.E.O. chapter in Des Moines that includes my mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law. It was a fundraiser for college scholarships, and I started thinking about how the national P.E.O. has funded Cottey College, a liberal arts school for about 350 students in Nevada, Missouri, southeast of Kansas City. I was browsing on the Cottey website and noticed that they have intercollegiate athletics — their teams are the Comets. I looked deeper for a fight song, thinking it might be fun to sing it to the P.E.O. sisters in Des Moines during my speech. Alas, I couldn’t find a fight song, contacted college officials and learned they don’t have one!
All that is detailed in the earlier column, which you can read by looking down lower on our Offenburger.com home page, or by clicking here.
As a lover of all things collegiate — I have often referred to myself as “the eternal sophomore” — and a lover especially of college fight songs, anthems and alma maters, I knew it was time for me to do some work again as the “doctor of fight songs.” I alerted my composing partner, Brad Mariska, that another college is in need of our help.
Mariska, 34, is now director of bands at Austin Senior High School in the southern Minnesota town of Austin. I’ve known him since he was a fun-loving undergraduate student at Buena Vista University when my wife Carla and I were teaching at that school in Storm Lake in northwest Iowa. He took his B.A. in music from BVU and went on to earn a master’s in music at the University of Maryland.
We were both involved in the revival of the fight song at BVU. Later we collaborated on a new fight song for Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, although we had to revise it to become a “spirit song” instead of a fight song when BCU President Bev Wharton insisted they couldn’t have a fight song because they are a school founded by the Franciscan nuns, who oppose fighting. Mariska and I put together a real rouser of a “spirit song,” one that even incorporates Franciscan values. But as far as we know, it has been ignored up on that cliff-top in Sioux City, although we figure that at some point someone there will “discover” our work. You can listen to the “Briar Cliff Spirit Song” if you go to that earlier column.
On to Cottey College!
Remember, it was on the night before my P.E.O. speech in Des Moines that I discovered that Cottey had no fight song and decided it simply must have one. I knew I’d be able to draft Mariska later for an original tune, so I focused on coming up with lyrics that would reflect some Cottey history and spunkiness and would also be fun.
So I wrote these words and the next day, borrowing the tune from the “Buena Vista Fight Song,” sang them to the sisterhood:
Cottey Comets, we are oh so bright!
Streaking ‘cross the skies in yellow and white.
We’ll be successful
Wherever we go,
Because right behind us is the P-E-O-oh!
Cottey Comets! We are cute and tough,
But even better we are wise.
We’ll win today and
We’ll win tomorrow,
And we can win without guys!
(Spell “C-O-M-E-T-S” in a chant, then repeat both verses)
Honesty compels me to report that the P.E.O. sisters were not only applauding at the end, they were cheering!
That same weekend, Mariska went to work on a tune to carry those words well. And I sent the lyrics to Cottey College President Judy Rogers, basketball coach & athletic director Dave Ketterman and public information director Steve Reed. That Sunday night, President Rogers was talking to a group of students at what is called “Pizza with the Prez,” so she told the students that some writer up in Iowa was working up a fight song for them, and she shared the words. “I like them very much, but the real test lies ahead,” Rogers wrote me afterward. “We’ll see what the students’ reaction is.” once more of them hear it.
The next day, I received an email from Mari Anne Phillips, Cottey vice-president for student life.
“It was an enjoyable night last night at Cottey, with our Student Government Association hosting ‘Pizza with the Prez’,” Phillips wrote. “That’s a casual forum where members of the student body ask Dr. Rogers and members of the President’s Council questions about Cottey, about Dr. Rogers, about life — and so on. Dr. Rogers shared with all of us that she had recently gotten a very interesting email. She shared your email, and then recited the words to the Cottey fight song that you have composed, so that added a fun and unexpected surprise to our evening.
“Because I supervise the athletic programs at Cottey,” Phillips continued, “Dr. Rogers asked me to take this project forward to share with the campus community and see if we would like to adopt it as our official fight song. She shared your follow-up email with me about your composer friend who will put it to music. When you all have a recording, I would love for you to send it to me, and so that I can share it along with the lyrics.”
Now, in mid-February, after composer Mariska has written, recorded, tweaked and re-recorded the music, we have sent it to Phillips and the others at Cottey.
You can give it a try yourself, by clicking here, which will take you to a YouTube posting that will feed you the words while you hear the tune.
Mariska has also sent Cottey College the actual musical score. If you want to play it yourself on your piano and sing along, you can access the sheet music by clicking here.
As we worked on this project, I asked Mariska what he considers the best college fight song to be, and his pick is “The Victors” of the University of Michigan. “It’s not only an amazing tune, but the lyrics are grand and proud,” he said.
And what goes into composing a good one?
“A good fight song should be upbeat, easy to sing, especially for ‘non-singers”‘,” Mariska said. “You want to be able to get people who say they ‘can’t sing’ to want to sing along because the tune is so catchy and memorable. So you use a limited range that is comfortable to all voice parts, use repetition, and also don’t be afraid to imitate successful songs of the same genre.
“When I wrote my first fight song for Briar Cliff — O.K., the ‘spirit song’ — I spent a lot of time listening to college fight songs and Sousa marches. You quickly pick up on little characteristics of the melody and harmonic progression that help the singer to feel comfortable singing. It’s a fun challenge because anybody can write a song for a professional to perform, but writing something that is catchy for non-musicians is another thing altogether. You also want to avoid gimmicks or musical techniques or styles that are ‘popular’ right now. You want the song to still feel timeless 20 years from now.
“So, in writing this Cottey College Fight Song, I tried to write a tune and chord progression that would have been just as believable in 1914 as it is in 2014. Without it sounding ‘old-fashioned’! Always a trick!”
One more note on all this. Officials of the national P.E.O. organization, which is headquartered in Des Moines, have taken an interest in our project of writing a fight song for Cottey College, and plan to share the story with the 240,000 subscribers of The P.E.O. Record, the official publication of the sisterhood, according to its editor Becky Frazier.
Go you Cottey Comets!
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the hand form below here.