13 June 2012

"Um Yah Yah" - the history of the St. Olaf "rouser"

The fight song for St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minnesota) can be heard on several YouTube clips (including at the 2:00 mark here with 15 pianos), but its most curious aspect is in its refrain: "Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah! Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah! Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah! Um! Yah! Yah! Yah!.

There are two stories about the history of those words - a legendary one, and a true one. The legendary background was explained in a 2005 issue of St. Olaf Magazine (via MPR News):
The rouser [is] based upon the old St. Olaf Faculty Hymn, which legend has it was sung at the beginning of all faculty meetings... Hagbarth Hardangerson ’29, who knew many of the great men named in the Faculty Hymn (“They were my teachers”), claimed the faculty never sang anything at their meetings... “most of the faculty couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and they never tried singing again.”

When you read the refrain(s), which apparently neither the faculty nor anyone else could commit to memory, you will immediately understand why the original words were replaced by the easier-to-remember, albeit somewhat ridiculous, nonsense phrase “um yah yah.”
We teach at St. Olaf,
We don’t dance or chew snuff,
Our students are Halvor and Gudrun and Thor;
They study like furious,
Their minds are so curious;
We sure are a bunch of Norwegians galore.

Gulbrandson, Narveson, Huggenvik, Ellingson,
Amundson, Klaragard, Halvorson, Roe.
Fredrickson, Rasmussen, Tollefsrud, Peterson,
Skogerboe, Faillettaz, Jorgenson, Boe.

We teach at St. Olaf,
It’s built on a big bluff,
The wind blows so hard that it causes distress.
But colleagues are glorious
And students uproarious
There’s no place on earth that we’d rather profess.

Christensen, Sheveland, Gustafson, Maakestad,
Lokensgaard, Skurdalsvold, Wrigglesworth, Ross.
Rovelstad, Jacobson, Lutterman, Otterness,
Erickson, Gunderson, Iverson, Foss.


Thormodsgard, Bieberdorf, Overby, Gimmestad,
Kittelsby, Ytterboe, Hinderlie, Njus.
Ditmanson, Odegaard, Hilleboe, Anderson,

Anderson, Anderson, Anderson, Muus! 
That hymn supposedly morphed into the modern version:
We come from St. Olaf,
We sure are the real stuff.
Our team is the cream of the colleges great.
We fight fast and furious,
Our team is injurious.
Tonight Carleton College will sure meet its fate.

Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah!
Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah!
Um! Yah! Yah!, Um! Yah! Yah!
Um! Yah! Yah! Yah!
That's the legend.  Here's the less humorous but more believable true story:
In 1987, Hagbarth Bue, member of the class of 1911, was interviewed on how the fight song originated (incidentally, the audiocassette is available in the St. Olaf College Archives). Mr. Bue said the 1911 class octet was practicing a Norwegian folk song, "Jeg Har Ute Pulten," which was to be sung at half time of a basketball game. The song was taught to two audiences separated by a basketball court. Because of a shortage of time, they simply substituted Um! Yah! Yah! for the words of the chorus.

The first published account of Um! Yah! Yah! appears in the 1913-14-15 triannual Viking under the song title "Jeg Har Ute Pulten" (embed at right).
A hat tip to Mr. Jeff Sauve, Associate College Archivist at St. Olaf, for providing this information and the image of the original publication; he notes that the basketball Goat Trophy celebrated its centennial this winter too.

9 comments:

  1. We go to Saint Olaf
    We wear cashmere sweaters
    We live on The Hill to be closer to God.
    We don't smoke
    We don't drink
    (at least that's what they think)
    And under the covers we UM YA YA YA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds more like an Ole. Carls (at least in my day) didn't pay that much attention to what was up the hill. And we were to busy playing rotblatt and other activities out in the Arb to try singing.

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    2. The Carleton Orchestra always knows the parody refrain, given that we've all played it - terribly - at the midnight Halloween concerts in the chapel. I don't want to know how the orchestra conductor got the Stolaf girls' cheerleading uniforms, but enlisting my (male) roommates to wear them for the Stolaf-mocking part was one of my highlights of being a Carl. In fact, I daresay that during my time there ('02-'06) the students could sing the Stolaf parody words better than Carleton's alma mater. They may beat us in football every year, but we beat them in academic rankings by a landslide, so we don't mind ;-)

      Delete
  2. In my day we wore woolen sweaters. Times a changin' or just the lyrics?

    ReplyDelete
  3. my aunt went to st olaf in the early 30's, graduated, then retired from there. somewhere i got in my head that there was from st olaf a "lutefisk, lefse, copenhagen snoose, i'm from st olaf, vat about youse?". i had converted it, especially after moving down south to "i'm from minnesota, vat about youse?" anyone know it that came from somewhere?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Please let me set the record straight regarding the origins of Um! Yah! Yah!

    In 1987, Hagbarth Bue, member of the class of 1911, was interviewed on how the fight song originated (incidentally, the audiocassette is available in the St. Olaf College Archives). Mr. Bue said the 1911 class octet was practicing a Norwegian folk song, "Jeg Har Ute Pulten," which was to be sung at half time of a basketball game. The song was taught to two audiences separated by a basketball court. Because of a shortage of time, they simply substituted Um! Yah! Yah! for the words of the chorus.

    The first published account of Um! Yah! Yah! appears in the 1913-14-15 Viking under the song title "Jeg Har Ute Pulten."

    Prof. David Wee ('61) account (cited above) was fictitious in his own words. But like many stories, once published many believe it as fact.

    Go Oles!

    Jeff M. Sauve
    St. Olaf College Associate College Archivist.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Mr. Sauve. I've transcribed the information you provided into the body of the post.

      Incidentally, when I searched (unsuccessfully) on the 'net for a rendition of "Jeg Har Ute Pulten" I found that the Prairie Home Companion site had rendered the title as "Jer har..." I've used your version.

      I'm two generations away from reading Norwegian, but Google Translate renders it in English as "I Have Outside the Desk." ???

      Delete
  5. I'm starting to understand the logic behind "Ten thousand Swedes came through the weeds all chasing one Norwegian." Queen Christina

    ReplyDelete

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