UT Dallas Magazine

Behind the Lyrics: UTD Alma Mater

Few things during the school year rival the excitement of graduation when jubilant Comets take part in the pomp of commencement ceremonies.

For the Fall 2012 issue of the magazine, we spoke with Dr. Robert Xavier Rodriguez about one of the staples of graduation: the “UT Dallas Alma Mater.” In a hat tip to VH1’s Behind the Music, here’s the story behind the anthem’s creation …

In a twist worthy of the University’s unconventional origins, the music for the school’s official anthem was written before the lyrics were created. Most often, music and words are created in tandem, or at the very least, with some communication between the composer and the wordsmith.

“We managed to get along for 30 years or so without an alma mater until I was requested to write one. Most school songs seem to have new words put to traditional melodies. I think it’s unusual to have new music written,” said Robert Xavier Rodriguez, world-renowned composer, UT Dallas aesthetic studies professor and holder of a School of Arts and Humanities Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies.

“I wrote the music while I was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. I can remember walking through St. Peter’s Basilica looking at the wonderful Bernini and Michelangelo sculptures with that tune going through my head. To this day, every time I see a picture of the Vatican, I think of that song.

“The lyrics were added later. I was not involved in the writing or selection of the lyrics. So when I saw them, I was amused to see that the word ‘orange’ was set to one note. I added an extra note for the extra syllable.”

Biology graduates Patricia Balconi-Lamica and Victor Vinh sang the Alma Mater in unison, bringing the spring 2017 commencement ceremony for the School of Arts and Humanities and the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to a close. (Photo by Tania Raharja.)

The school song debuted at May commencement in 2004, sung by Sani Mathew BS’06.

Mathew witnessed the creation of the new school song. She served on a student panel that reviewed lyrics submitted for consideration by professional songwriters in a contest organized by the Office of Student Affairs. The panel narrowed the entries to two and presented them to then-UTD President Franklyn Jenifer, who ultimately selected words penned by Texans Bill Dunn and Neely Reynolds.

Rodriguez, whose commissions include works for conductors such as Eduardo Mata, Neville Marriner and Antal Dorati, has been a member of the faculty since 1975. He said the “UT Dallas Alma Mater” is a gift of love to the University.

Have graduation memories to share? Send them our way! Email [email protected] with your photos and recollections.