One hundred years ago two Penn freshmen got together in a Quadrangle dorm room and wrote the music and lyrics to a song they named “Fight On, Pennsylvania.” The University’s official fight song became a tradition at football games, and today is played thousands of times a year.
Both members of the Class of 1923, David Zoob wrote the music and Ben McGiveran the lyrics. A plaque now marks the spot in the Quad, dedicated on their 25th reunion in 1948.
“It has stood the test of time, which is remarkable for any student composition,” says Kushol Gupta, research assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics and assistant director of the Penn Band.
Gupta first heard the many traditional Penn songs while playing trombone in the band when he was a freshman, Class of 1997. “Penn songs have such a long history,” he says. “They are still mainstays of the songs in our flip folders.”
Penn’s canon has more than 60 songs, according to the “Songs of Penn” collection by Bruce Montgomery, who was director of the Penn Glee Club for more than four decades until 2000. Other regulars in the band and glee club repertoire are “The Red and Blue” and “Hail, Pennsylvania,” both written even earlier than the fight song, in 1895. Those two tunes will be celebrated in 2020 to mark their 125th year.
“These are the threads that bind our community together in the shared tradition,” Gupta says. “Whether you graduated in the class of ‘69, ‘79, ‘89, ‘99, 2009, or 2019, you all know the words to ‘Fight On, Pennsylvania’ and ‘Drink a Highball.’”
That “Drink a Highball,” written in 1906, is another song laden with tradition, played by the band at the end of the third quarter of football games. It ends with “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn,” which has become the cue for fans to toss toasted bread onto the field.
The Penn Band plays “Fight On, Pennsylvania” at several points during football and basketball games: When the players come onto the field or court, during player introductions, when the football team scores a touchdown, and even a snippet when making first down.
“The Penn Band doesn’t require our members to memorize music, but a lot of people end up memorizing ‘Fight On’ just because of how much we play it,” says sophomore Jessica Conway, a clarinet player from Los Angeles who plans to major in biological basis of behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Assistant drum major Ryan Jurewicz, a junior from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, plays all the instruments in the drumline, but he is primarily a bass drummer. He conducts the band during the third quarter of the football games and when otherwise needed.
“From a playing perspective, I can really just go all out with the song. The middle of ‘Fight On’ has a coordinated stick flip across the entirety of the drumline. However, when I’m leading the band, I nearly get blown away by the rest of the band. The amount of excitement from everyone playing is overwhelming,” says Jurewicz, a mechanical engineering and applied mechanics major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“My favorite time to play ‘Fight On,’” says Conway, “is when we are in front of a crowd of alumni who graduated a long time ago. Hearing people in their eighties and nineties sing along to our music and seeing them smile as they remember the song from when they were students at Penn is really special.”