UNCP's alma mater finds a new life, new audience


 Lawrence Locklear

Lawrence Locklear

 Larry Arnold

Larry Arnold

 Gary Wright

Gary Wright

View sheet music, lyrics and listen to "Hail to UNCP"

It was a moment destined to be one of the most important in the modern institutional history of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

On May 8, 2004, at approximately 10 a.m., the University Choir, accompanied by the Concert Band, performed UNCP's alma mater. It was the first time the "Hail to UNCP" was heard publicly in many, many years.

Written in 1941 by former Music Department Chair Ira Pate Lowry and his wife Reba, the song gathered dust in the University archives. It was brushed off, updated to reflect the University's new name and returned to its rightful place as a centerpiece for ceremonial events in 2004.

It's a song that suits the University well, said Lawrence Locklear, who guided the alma mater's revival. Locklear is the Web publisher for the Division for University and Community Relations.

"It's a great song!" Locklear said. "It is a brooding, powerful hymn that I think is fitting for the many struggles of the University and the people who founded it."

In fact, when Ira Pate Lowry put the music to paper, the University was at one of its lowest points in history. With the men off at war and food scarce, Lowry imagined a school song that would lift hearts and minds. It worked.

"It is very dignified, very spiritual," Locklear said. "It is one of the ties that bind us to this great University."

Like Lowry before him, Locklear pursued the revival of the alma mater with missionary zeal.

"When I found the song in an old Indianhead yearbook, I knew it needed work," he said. "Everyone I talked to about the project was enthusiastic."

Among those who labored over the song's revival was Larry Arnold, director of the UNCP Jazz Program.

"I changed the ending of the song to accommodate the University's name change, and I entered the music into music engraving software for a clean, professional look," Arnold said.

After some reflection, Arnold characterized the song as embodying a "spirit of reverence" and "an attitude of aspiration."

UNCP Choral Director Dr. Gary Wright also noted that the old rendition needed some tweaking, but it was workable.

"The old alma mater had some notes that were a bit odd," Dr. Wright said. "I did some re-arrangement to standardize it."

"We have recorded the new version, and we now perform it in its new format, and the students are comfortable with it," he said.

Since the revival of "Hail to UNCP," the campus community seems to have accepted it as if it never went away.

"Without a doubt, we need an alma mater," Dr. Wright said. "Every school should have one because history and tradition have their places."

There was some conversation about commissioning a new alma mater, but like Dr. Wright said, history and tradition won out. There is another song that UNCP students and alumni will hear in the near future that they have never heard before.

"We should keep the current alma mater," Dr. Wright said. "But I think everyone will enjoy the new fight song that Tracy Wiggins has been commissioned to write."