Torchbearers

The origins of “Torchbearers” come to us most directly from accounts by Frank Brackett and David Barrows. Brackett was the College’s first professor of mathematics, Latin, and astronomy, and authored a history of the College, Granite and Sagebrush (1944).[1] Barrows was a member of the class of 1894, and the experience he and Brackett had that eventually led to the composition of this song occurred during his time as an undergraduate. Far from fulfilling a mere youthful curiosity, however, he had a genuine interest in understanding the culture of the indigenous peoples living in the region, and his early experiences with the Cahuilla (Ivilyuqaletem)[2] people while he was a student at Pomona, as well as in graduate school and the years thereafter, set a career path that would see him become an anthropologist and the first to make an anthropological study of the Cahuilla.[3]

As Barrows explained in his memoirs, in the summer of 1891[4] his family was camping in the San Jacinto Mountains with Brackett and his wife when they heard of an upcoming Cahuilla festival, the annual Fiesta of San Luis Rey, and decided to attend.[5] The two of them, Brackett and Barrows, joined the large gathering, which was made up of Cahuilla and members of neighboring tribes, as well as some Spaniards and whites—over 700 attendees altogether.[6] They interacted with them, and witnessed their games and various dances including “the Fire Dance” and the “remarkable, whirling Eagle dance.” The dance they recalled best, however, was one with a phrase that they heard as “He no tera [sic] toma.”[7] Barrows and Brackett believed this to be a war dance, a descriptor that was no doubt influenced by the horrific events at Wounded Knee in 1890. The massacre of the Lakota people there was triggered by, among other things, a fear of the rituals of the Ghost Dance, a new religious practice inspired by the prophetic leadership of a Northern Paiute named Wovoka.[8]

Part of Wovoka’s vision included a call for harmony and brotherhood among indigenous peoples in order to secure a happy, rich, and tradition-filled afterlife. Central to the sacred ritual Wovoka gave his followers was a circle dance—the Ghost Dance—that would be danced continuously, usually over the course of five days.[9] Although Wovoka’s message was one of peace and harmony among all, indigenous and white settlers alike, followers from other tribes took a more combative approach, one that promoted driving white populations out. According to numerous sources, these more militant tribes used dances (and in this case, Ghost Dance) as a precursor to battle rather than as a peaceful devotional practice.[10]

It should be noted here that Brackett’s description of their experience with the Cahuilla in Granite and Sagebrush is a significantly more romanticized version than what seems to be a more fact-based account by Barrows. Furthermore, it is Brackett who paints the inaccurate albeit alluring picture of the two Pomona-ites lurking in the dark, spying on the Native Americans as they performed their mysterious dances. In fact, Barrows (perhaps alone, if not with Brackett) took part in the festivities directly, and began what would be a life-long relationship with the Cahuilla. But Brackett’s version made for a better “story,” and by the middle of the century, the image of Barrows and Brackett peering through the thicket “from their hiding place in the bushes”[11] was widely embraced.

According to a letter that Barrows sent to The Student Life, he demonstrated the “He no tera toma” dance (singing along with it) during a Halloween celebration in 1895,[12], and it eventually became known around campus. Such was its popularity that Francis Fulkerson (Shaw, class of 1896) wrote a text to fit the melody, giving her words the title “Ghost Dance,” and including in them references both to student life at Pomona and to the legend of nearby Indian Hill, where the Tongva (Kizh) tribe of the Gabrieleño people had lived.[13] She also included the phrase Barrow and Brackett claimed to hear at the Cahuilla festival. Professor Arthur Bissell set Fulkerson’s text to music sometime thereafter, and it was published in 1902, with a piano accompaniment supplied by Professor Dwight C. Rice, who was head of the College’s school of music.

Soon “Ghost Dance” made its way into the regular repertoire of both the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs;[14] it was probably sung in unison when each group sang it independently. In 1919, Professor Ralph Lyman made an unaccompanied choral arrangement for the tenors and basses of the Men’s Glee Club.[15] The song’s title changed to “Torchbearers” in 1930, when English professor Ramsay Harris wrote new words for it; it was premiered in this new version at the Ceremony of the Flame for the Founders Day Convocation that year. Two years later, “Torchbearers” gained national attention when the Men’s Glee Club performed it at the 1932 National Intercollegiate Glee Club competition in St. Louis, handily (and unexpectedly) beating out the likes of Yale, Penn State, and NYU in a decision that one of the judges said was the “most foolproof decision that has ever been given in the national championships – there never has been a decision received so popularly!”[16] This occasion of national recognition raised Pomona’s standing among its older East Coast peer institutions, and it cemented “Torchbearers”’ central place as the College’s most revered college song.

“Torchbearers” remains beloved by many alumni, who sang it often as a regular part of their Pomona experience.[17] They note its grand sound and haunting melody, and many recall fondly the pride they feel when they sing it. However, at various times in the last few decades, concerns have been raised about its text and music, which many consider to be offensive to Native Americans and an inappropriate validation of the nineteenth-century concept of manifest destiny that drove U.S. expansionist policies at the time. When the campus discussion regarding “Hail Pomona, Hail!”’s history occurred in 2008, the College decided to commission a new version of “Torchbearers,” one that that carried a refashioned text to address those concerns, one that replaced the invented phrase “He ne terra toma” with the Latin, “Nite terra tota” (“shine, entire land”), and that eliminated the “Drum beats” opening, which was traditionally chanted four times in open 5ths to start the piece.[18] This new version was first sung on Reunion Weekend in 2009, and remained in the active repertoire until May 2015, when student concerns about the piece—its revised text as well as its history—again surfaced.

Professor Donna M. Di Grazia, the Glee Club’s conductor at the time, talked at length with the students, and recognized the importance of their position on the matter. At the same time, she valued the positive feelings created between alumni and the College, and between current students and alumni, when they sang songs they all knew together, songs that had been part of the College almost since its founding. Understanding that continuing to sing “Torchbearers” even in its revised form was no longer possible, she wrote to Glee Club alumni in 2016, 2017, and 2018 after having conversations with President David Oxtoby (and subsequently, President Starr), with several Alumni Association presidents, and with other members of the Administration. In her remarks, she noted how special it is when current and former members of Pomona’s choral program stand together on the stage in Little Bridges and sing. And yet, she explained, some of the good feelings many thought were part of such gatherings were missing for others. Di Grazia wrote,

Although the feelings of connection between current and recently graduated Glee Clubbers and [alumni] remain steadfast, student perceptions about themselves and the world in which they live have changed considerably, especially in the last few years. There is an increased sensitivity to inclusivity, and a sense that in order to build lasting trust among students with significantly diverse life experiences, the College needs to consider more thoughtfully how it represents itself, how it might best reflect 21st-century sensibilities. As the students have worked through these issues, many of them have concluded that the music and text of “Torchbearers” no longer align with these aspirations. The genuine and profound concern many students have about the song’s message has reached the point where requiring them to sing it is no longer tenable. And yet, to a person, there is a very clear desire to preserve the choral tradition you have entrusted to us, and to strengthen our connection with you, our alumni.[19]

The decision to retire “Torchbearers” presented Professor Di Grazia with a new problem: how to preserve the tradition of current students and alumni singing known repertoire together on stage during Reunion Weekend and on tour. Without “Torchbearers,” and without “Hail Pomona, Hail!” (which had been retired from performance since 2008) and “Primavera” (which was now too dated and gender-coded to justify its continued performance), alumni and students would only be able to sing “Over the Years” onstage together. Di Grazia thought it would be unreasonable to ask older alumni in particular to come up to the stage for a piece that lasts less than 90 seconds. And yet, finding a replacement for the retired songs, which young and old to that point knew from memory, would mean finding something familiar to all. (None of the old College songs would do that; neither would something newly composed.) She settled on a recent arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” by the Australian composer Daniel Brinsmead. She had already programmed the piece for the Glee Club’s tour to Italy that year, and it fit the requirement that most people would already know the basic melody and words. Further, the song has long had a central place in popular American culture, gaining a more secular status in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, where it has been sung to bind communities in times of political unrest and of national mourning. Pomona’s students enthusiastically welcomed “Amazing Grace” in 2016, and its alumni graciously accepted the change too. It has become a Glee Club favorite, and has been sung every year since.

Ghost Dance (original lyrics, pub. 1902)

Ghost dance up on Indian Hill, right near Pomona, near Pomona.
Indian maids and warriors still flit round Pomona, round Pomona.
Sigh for the learning they never sought, Harmony Hall and its battles fought,
And for the pop they never bought down at Pomona, at Pomona.
Hay! Na Terra Tolma.

Down they danced with one accord, down to Pomona, to Pomona.
Spake their shadowy chief and lord, “We’re at Pomona, at Pomona”
Here’s the campus, here’s the spot where the seniors once turned out,
Where they made things just red hot, here at Pomona, at Pomona.
Hay! Na Terra Tolma.

We’ve got the brawn and the brains as well, so says Pomona, says Pomona.
That’s what history e’re will tell of our Pomona, of our Pomona.
All ghosts who care what the years will bring, join your hands and dance in a ring,
And for this dear old college sing, “Long live Pomona, live Pomona.”
Hay! Na Terra Tolma.

– Frances Fulkerson (1895) [back]
.

Torchbearers (1930 revision)

Drum beats rolled o’er the silence profound far above Pomona, above Pomona.
Chanting braves making echoes resound far above Pomona, above Pomona.
Garbed all in feathers each ghostly frame loomed ’gainst the embers while soft there came,
Borne through the gloom like a feather of flame:
“He ne terratoma, ne terratoma”.

Southland slopes in their sunlit repose lie around Pomona, around Pomona.
Soft winds, breathing of poppy and rose, sigh around Pomona, around Pomona.
Stern was the promise our fathers knew, pine-clad ranges of misted blue,
Scent of the sagebrush and yucca that grew high around Pomona, around Pomona
“He ne terratoma, ne terratoma.”

Ours be the faith of the builders whose dream raised our fair Pomona, our fair Pomona.
Bear we the torch of their honor whose gleam blazed o’er fair Pomona, o’er fair Pomona.
Where bleak and barren the sagebrush rolled, rise green orchards of fruited gold.
Glory to those who, with vision of old, gazed o’er fair Pomona, o’er fair Pomona.
“He ne terratoma, ne terratoma.”

– Ramsay L. Harris [back]
.

Torchbearers (2009 revision)

Down in the valley our forebears found, all around Pomona, around Pomona
Land made for learning and for common ground, all around Pomona, around Pomona.
Near where Cahuilla lived long ago, knowledge and wisdom take root and grow
And light up the land like the sun’s golden glow all around Pomona, around Pomona.
Nite, terra tota, terra tota.

Southland slopes in their sunlit repose lie around Pomona, around Pomona.
Soft winds, breathing of poppy and rose, sigh around Pomona, around Pomona.
Stern was the promise our founders knew, pine-clad ranges of misted blue,
Scent of the sagebrush and yucca that grew high around Pomona, around Pomona.
Nite, terra tota, terra tota.

Ours be the faith of the builders whose dream raised our fair Pomona, our fair Pomona.
Bear we the torch of their honor whose gleam blazed o’er fair Pomona, o’er fair Pomona.
Where wide and open the sagebrush rolled, rise green orchards of fruited gold.
Glory to those who, with vision of old, gazed o’er fair Pomona, o’er fair Pomona.
Nite, terra tota, terra tota.

– Ramsay L. Harris, with additions and revisions by Brendan Milburn ’93 [back]


[1] Other histories of the College (as of this writing) include: Charles B. Sumner, The Story of Pomona College (Boston: The Pilgrim Press,1914); “A Story of the First Thousand,” Pomona College Quarterly Magazine VIII/3 (March 1920); and E. Wilson Lyon, The History of Pomona College 1887–1969 (Claremont, CA: The College, 1977). [back]

[2] https://www.archives.gov/files/education/native-communities/california-nevada-nativecommunities-guide.pdf. [back]

[3] David P. Barrows, The Ethno-Botany of the Coahuilla [sic] Indians of Southern California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1900). This work was a revision of Barrows’ Ph.D. dissertation, which he completed in 1897, just three years after graduating from Pomona. [back]

[4] Brackett says it was the summer of 1890 rather than 1891. Barrows also remembered it as 1890 in his 1905 letter to The Student Life (October 27, 1905), p. 55, where he also reported having attended a similar gathering again in 1891. [back]

[5] David P. Barrows, Memoirs (Berkeley, 1954?), pp. 25-6. This paragraph relies heavily on Barrows’ account. See also Nina Paul Shumway, “Friend of the Cahuilla” in Desert Magazine of the Outdoor Southwest (January 1961), pp. 16–19, esp. p. 17. Both items accessed from Honnold Library Special Collections. [back]

[6] Barrows says there were “700 Indians with families, 350 of them being mountain Cahuilla”; he also mentions the presence of Luiseños and Diegueños, which is significant because of the similarities of the games, dances and rituals of these tribes. For a detailed account of some of the dances Barrows mentions, see T.T. Waterman, The Religious Practices of the Diegueño Indians (Berkeley: The University Press, 1910), accessible online at https://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/rpdi/. [back]

[7] Barrows spelled it “He no tera toma,” rather than “He ne terra toma,” in his memoirs. (The first printed score, with Frances Fulkerson’s text, spelled it “Hay Na Terra Tolma.”) [back]

[8] According to James Mooney, a contemporary ethnographer who interviewed him, Wovoka was also known as Kwohitsauq, after his paternal grandfather, and Jack Wilson, the name given to him by a white family who took him in after the death of his father. See Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890. The Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Part 2, 1892-1893 (Government Printing Office, 1896), p. 771. For examples of Ghost Dance songs from that time, see Mooney’s 1894 recordings at https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/james-mooney-s-ghost-dance-recordings-1894. [back]

[9] See Mooney, pp. 771ff for a thorough description of the religion, and pp. 915-27 for specific details about the dance. See also Judy Trejo, Walker River, and Anne Collins, “Paiute Native American Shaman Wovoka and the Ghost Dance,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cI0Jfdkq4z8, “Ghost Dance” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Dance), “Wovoka” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wovoka), and “Wounded Knee Massacre” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wounded_Knee_Massacre). [back]

[10] James P. Boyd, Recent Indian Wars (Publisher’s Union, 1891), pp. 175ff and Mooney, pp. 771ff. According to Mooney, Wovoka himself encouraged his people to live in harmony with whites, rather than hostility. (p. 772). See also Robert M. Utley, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963). [back]

[11] Brackett, p. 34. [back]

[12] Barrows, a letter to The Student Life, October 27, 1905, pp. 55. [back]

[13] There is disagreement over the name of these people and divisions within the tribe itself. See, for example, the Gabrielino-Tongva website (http://www.gabrielinotribe.org/historical-sites-1/) and the Gabrielino/Tongva website (https://web.archive.org/web/20090413184838/http://www.tongva.com/ and http://gabrielinofamilymembers.thelittleusedstore.com/tongva_nation.html ) There were several Tongva villages in the immediate area of Claremont including Torojoatnga and Toibinga (http://www.tongvapeople.org/?page_id=696). [back]

[14] William F. Russell, “Pomona’s Original College Songs.” Presentation given at the Claremont Rotary Club, Claremont, CA, October 28, 1977. Music Department Russell files. [back]

[15] Ibid. [back]

[16] “Men’s Glee Wins First Place in National Finals,” The Student Life, April 13, 1932. The judges were Professor Alexander Grant from the University of Colorado, Professor Harold S. Dyer from the University of North Carolina, and Edgar A. Nelson from the Bush Conservatory in Chicago. [back]

[17] Terra Tomah Mountain (elev. 12,718 ft) in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park was so-named after an early alumnus, George Bernard, yelled the song’s signature phrase upon summiting the mountain in 1914. [back]

[18] This opening was not notated in the published score, but it had been performed that way since the National Intercollegiate Glee Club Competition in 1932. [back]

[19] D. M. Di Grazia, email to Glee Club alumni, April 18, 2016. [back]