Are my lyrics gonna fly?

May 31, 2008

The University of Washington just held a “Song of Washington” lyrics contest. The winning entry will be set to music by Bill Conti, who is best known as the composer of the training montage song from Rocky (“Gonna Fly Now”).

Having nothing better to do with my copious free time, I decided to enter. But it was hard to figure how where to begin. How exactly does one sum up a school of 43,000 students, 28,000 faculty and staff, and over 150,000 living alumni? I’m used to writing songs about much narrower topics, like my mother and my favorite metabolic pathway.

I eventually decided that, whatever the message of this song might be, it had to be delivered forcefully, confidently, and succinctly. In other words, the chorus of the song should be a call to arms — a command of some sort directed at the school’s personnel and supporters. Something like “Kill Wazzu!”, except not specific to sports and not conveying hostility toward another school. Something bold, yet wholesome.

I sat down with a piece of paper and successfully generated a bunch of lame ideas. “Study hard”? “Bark if you’re a Husky”? “Make new friends but keep the old; some are purple and the others gold”? Ick, ick, and ick.

Still, focusing on the school colors seemed like a step in the right direction. How about … “Wear purple!”? It sounds kind of audacious without actually being offensive, and it might help the University sell more of its officially licensed apparel. Yes — I had a winner! Maybe not an actual contest winner, but a hook around which I could build a set of lyrics, at least. I added a marvelous line about wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, sprinkled in some standard imagery (cheering crowds, raised glasses), and — voila! — I had an instant song.

Just add music.


  1. So when are we gonna hear it? I like your science songs (I'm listening right now!) so I can hope the Husky song is only half as good – should be a winner! But then coming from a science geek….maybe I'm not the best judge.Someday when I see you in the halls I'll regale you with my favorite story about when my dad (a Biochem prof) hung out with Krebs.

  2. Isn't it difficult to write lyrics without a tune in mind? Or did you have a tune in mind for writing purposes, knowing that, should you win, Bill Conti would come up with something different?And doesn't UW have a school song already?

  3. Laura: The winning song will be announced and performed sometime in the fall. Whether it's my song that you'll hear, well….Jem: Yes, it's hard to write lyrics in a vacuum. Yes, I did create a guide melody as a template onto which to hang some words. And yes, UW has an "alma mater," which this new song might replace. A good article with more details is available at:uwnews.org/uweek/uweekarticle.asp?articleID=41591

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