Wesley College Song Book
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The Wesley College Song Book

Wesley College is a co-educational college in Melbourne, Australia, founded in 1865. It caters for students from Prep to Year 12. It is affiliated with the Uniting Church, having started as an educational institution within the Methodist Church.

The Wesley College Song Book has been a part of College life dating from 1893. Singing was historically a strong part of the Methodist tradition, as John and Charles Wesley wrote several hundred hymns. To complement hymns used in worship, the Wesley College Song Book contains more contemporary and largely secular musical works. College songs remain a feature of special assemblies, celebrations and Alumni reunions to the present day. These works are remarkable as a collection. Few schools have such a variety of vocal works to draw upon.

The 150th anniversary of the College rapidly approaches. Wesley College's Principal, Dr. Helen Drennen, has commissioned a new edition of the Song Book for publication. Over the decades some songs have fallen out of popularity and have been omitted. Additionally, newer songs have been introduced to commemorate significant events or to capture the sentiments prevailing within College life. This website has been compiled as a historical collection, to prevent the loss of older musical works, and to aggregate the total collection of Wesley Songs and their historical background in a consistent, accessible and convenient digital format.

The College Song Book survives in spite of considerable natural pressures. Teaching as a profession (like so many other professions) is becoming more itinerant. Therefore, first-hand knowledge of histories associated with schools songs falters in the absence of long-serving staff to pass on the history. Timetabling complexities of the current College preclude the luxury of school singing once a week or once a fortnight. There are few venues large enough to house an entire Wesley campus to experience the Songs sung en masse. The Methodist tradition of singing Wesleyan hymns has waned since the formation of the Uniting Church, and proponents of congregational singing are steadily dwindling. Another factor has been the advent of co-education. This introduces valuable precepts of gender equality and gender neutrality, but with the result that lyrics written long ago for a male demographic must be modified, effectively altering the historical settings familiar to alumni. Finally, College Songs hardly satisfy students' common preferences for heavily produced commercial tracks.

With each edition the Song Book is edited to keep publication costs down. This is pragmatic in the short-term, but threatens the completeness of the song collection from a historical perspective. One person's iconoclasm is another's history. In the process of editing the Wesley Song Book, many songs have been discarded. Some of these songs are well crafted and memorable, but have been removed because the heritage was not obvious, or due to having more songs than available pages. Some deleted songs are historically significant. Others marked the history of the College during World War I. These songs seem irrelevant today, unless we view the songs in tandem with the obituaries of Old Collegians - page after page - in the Chronicles of 1914-1919. Some songs have been removed owing to their poor musical quality or low appeal, yet these works still retain curiosity value. The editorial role for any Song Book is difficult because deletion becomes the modus operandus where there is a fixed budget, a finite printed page limit, and limited familiarity with of some of the songs.

Despite the above difficulties, there is no small joy in hearing a group of people of a common bond singing a song. The voice is the natural instrument. These songs in themselves are uplifting. The messages within the lyrics describe the common values and life of the College. Wesley College Songs are inexorably linked to the spirit and history of the College itself.

This website is designed to be a repository of a vast body of work - minus the limitations of the print edition. Hopefully here the musical traditions and historical legacy of the College can be retained, free from cost-driven constraints.

This website is dedicated to anyone who is interested in Wesley College and its rich musical heritage - especially to those who were lucky enough to be educated at "The Best School of All", and who have sung these songs at some moment of their lives.

"We'll give a toast - The School we love! - May Wesley ever thrive!"

Stephen Smith (OW1979),
August 2008.

About the author:

Stephen Smith left Wesley in 1979 and studied Medicine and Arts at Melbourne University. He and his family ended their association with Wesley College in 2009.
 
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