The Spike or Victoria University College Review Silver Jubilee 1924
In American universities it is the custom to use Commemorations as suitable opportunities for extracting shekels from hardhearted millionaires, and worthy young men, it is said, are apt to be called upon to read their theses to the multitude. It is the strange seriousness of a business people getting its money's-worth out of culture. This method is contrary to the spirit of British Universities. It is our custom to hide any feelings of triumph behind the comic mask. While it is natural that our feelings should overflow, it is good sense that we should not treat the beginning as though it were the happy ending, the promise as though it were the fulfilment. So we pass the milestone in good company, arm in arm, singing our Community Songs. That is the spirit of our Carnival.
For our present purpose it is not necessary to trace the evolution of the Carnival programme as it exists to-day, except to point out that in times past the Capping Song held a much more important place. From very early times it was recognised that the weapon of the student was the topical song. Through all the changes, in all the University centres, the Capping Song is the one constant element. The book of words is also the one permanent available record, though as an index to the merits of a Carnival it is curiously limited. It will help us to compare only carnivals of the same type. It will help us in appraising the series of musical extravaganzas of Victoria College but will tell us practically nothing about the tableaux which have been the staple product of Otago. From one point of view the success of a Carnival has one test alone—its effect in drawing and interesting an audience. It is quite clear that the songs of Otago and Auckland will not bear comparison with those of Victoria and Canterbury Colleges, yet it is equally certain that Otago was drawing her thousands while Victoria College was content with hundreds. There is another sense, however, in which success is not unrelated to literary merit. "The Mikado" is better than "Chu Chin Chow" whatever the ticket-box may say.
If a just comparison is impossible, however, it may not be impossible to make a few deductions from the facts. The tradition of Otago has made her success independent of songs of high merit. This is probably the reason her record is so barren. The tradition, at least in the sense of a Carnival of a characteristic and uniform type, is far older than that of any other College in New Zealand. One guesses that some shrewd theatrical manager saw a Carnival of the Otago type, and from it produced the modern "revue." To this type all the Colleges seem at the moment to be converging. This article is written in the hope that the traditions may be strengthened in a true University sense, that the producers will not be content merely to fill halls and to minister to what seems at the moment to be the prevailing taste.
It is probable that few realise what a nightmare the Capping business is to the small and devoted band who have the responsibility thrust upon them. Work must be sacrificed and a full programme produced—and whence? The natural guide is the year before, and, as time is short, the tradition tends to remain unaltered. Somehow success is achieved and those few alone who strove for something which was not attained feel the bitterness page 35 of failure. Success of a kind is, indeed, not difficult to achieve. The audience is friendly and expectant. It is ready to take student, wit, especially when it is not understood, at its own valuation. It actually loves the freedom of comment and criticism which youth justifies and custom condones. The performance will go well enough when the time comes, but the student should do some real thing to justify the belief in his ability.
I suggest that the students have not done their job well unless the programme, bought at a price, contains some topical verse of reasonable quality. I do not refer to those old songs which have survived. I refer merely to the song which hits off the academic year with some smoothness of rhythm and with criticism which is shrewd and apt. These should, in my view, give flavour to the production. They are always helped out by the University songs and anthems, but these belong to the same type as the orthodox school song. Victoria College is much richer in these than the other Colleges.
Those who are interested in School Songs should read the "Harrow Song Book," a wonderful collection for one School. It serves to illustrate the difference between the School and the University. The School song does not admit of impertinence. It belongs to the seriousness of childhood and the discipline of adolescence. The University begins with something of the excess of emancipation. That is the note of the yearly crop of songs. Everything is done in haste. It is good form to "borrow" words and music, and it is bad business to miss a really rollicking chorus which has the public ear at the moment. There is little that is sacred in the tradition and personality is its orthodox weapon. There is, however, subject to exceptions, often political, the feeling that there is something of bad form in using personality in a bitter sense. It is, therefore, a compliment to be racked and pilloried, for we are dealing with friends.