After the University of Maryland's marching band cut the pro-Confederate state song from its lineup, the music school is hosting a contest for students to write new lyrics to "Maryland, My Maryland."
University President Wallace Loh said the lyric change could permit the marching band to reinstate the song, which was previously featured in its football pregame show. The band stopped performing the song — which has lyrics referring to Abraham Lincoln as a "despot" and the Union as "northern scum" — in August, weeks after white supremacist protests turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Once you have [the new lyrics], if the band wants to play the music … at sports events, that's up to them," Loh said. "And if people want to sing along the new lyrics that go with it, that's up to them too."
The Maryland General Assembly would have to approve an official lyric change. The body adopted the state song in 1939, sung to the tune of German folk song "O Tannenbaum," or "O Christmas Tree."
"I've been here for several years and I always wondered, 'Why is the band playing a Christmas tune?' I never knew it was the Maryland state song," Loh said. "We have no authority over the lyrics of the Maryland state song … so, this contest, as I understand it, is not a contest about changing the lyrics … it is a contest for students to express their pride in the state of Maryland."
Music school director Jason Geary said he is excited that the competition will create a platform for students to address the state song.
"I think the point here is that it does give students a voice," he said. "This is something that engages not just school of music or the college of arts and humanities, but really reaches out across the university. It's an issue that clearly inflames passions on both sides, and also something that is timely and relevant."
Tonie Johnstone, a senior international business major, said the decision connects to past university events, such as the renaming of Byrd Stadium to Maryland Stadium. In 2015, the Board of Regents voted to change the stadium name, stripping it of the name of former university President Harry Clifton "Curley" Byrd, who opposed admitting black students.
"I do like the fact that we're putting effort forward into creating a whole new dynamic, or a whole new song," she said. If it's really successful, who knows how far it could go."
Sophomore marching band member Lauren Cain praised the contest, adding that if the song's lyrics were officially changed, the band could play it again.
"A lot of people recognize it by the tune and not the lyrics," said Cain, a criminology and criminal justice major. "I never really knew that it had negative connotations to it. "
Marching band member Sara Tatum said rewriting the lyrics might not be enough.
"If the music doesn't change, people might still have negative opinions on it, so it goes both ways," the senior education and mathematics major said.
The contest is open to all undergraduate and graduate students, and submissions are due Nov. 20. Entries must be at least one verse in length, and co-authored lyrics will be accepted, according to a music school news release.
Officials should open the contest to submissions from across the state, Johnstone said.
"Even if they did a statewide contest, like not only Maryland students … that'd be really cool," she said.
A committee made up of students, faculty and staff will review the submissions. The winner will receive $1,500, with second and third place entries receiving $750 and $500, respectively, and awards will be announced in early December, according to the news release.