February 9, 2017 | 2 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist
When Bruce Leafblad ’61, S’66 shared some memories at his 50-year Bethel Seminary reunion at Homecoming this fall, he told friends that writing the “Bethel Fight Song” was among the fondest. One of a very small group of alumni who have sung in more than four or five Festivals of Christmas—and the only one who sang in the first nine of them—Leafblad’s time in college and seminary had a decidedly musical focus. As a freshman in 1957, he learned the fight song “Stand Up and Cheer” with the rest of the student body.
Fellow two-time alum Russ Baustian ’51, S’54 remembers that song, too. Although at the time, says Baustian, “the only athletic event we had to get excited about was basketball!” The lyrics, as Baustian recalls, were “very singable” and used at least into the 1950s: “Stand up and cheer, ye loyal friends and students of our Bethel College; Hold high the torch of victry’s gone before (rah, rah, rah). Give of your best and do not rest but fight with zest, we never falter. Onward we go, to triumph now and evermore!”
But, looking back, Leafblad admits that, “From a musician and poet’s standpoint, there were some awkward things about it.” Leafblad had a musical background and had recently switched his major to music education, so when the music faculty held a contest to update the song, Leafblad set out to rewrite a piece of Bethel’s history.
“I had never written a fight song before, but I thought I could do a reasonable job. And lo and behold, I won! Nobody was more surprised than I was,” says Leafblad. He remembers getting a small monetary award and that Music Professor Julius Whitinger wrote the arrangement for the pep band.
Leafblad’s “Bethel Fight Song”—also known as “The Bethel Rouser”—was the version taught to the next class of Royals, and he says hearing the song sung for the first time was quite the experience.
“Oh, it was kind of fun…the great delight as a musician is to have something you’ve written finally performed,” says Leafblad. The piece was learned by rote—taught in an assembly-like gathering, usually without sheet music—so the origin and composer of the piece became less known to students as years passed.
Department of Music Associate Professor and Chair Jon Veenker says, “Bruce is larger-than-life—a part of Bethel Choir lore. He was kind of ‘Mr. Music.’” Around the same time that Leafblad was a student, the Bethel music program was growing into what it is today, says Veenker. The Male Chorus was Bethel’s first choir, and a co-ed vocal ensemble was brand new in the 1950s. The “Bethel Choir”—an anchor for today’s music program—didn’t come about until later.
There are still a number of campus-wide musical traditions at Bethel today. Festival of Christmas celebrated its 60th annual performance in December. The Bethel Choir sings the “Doxology” together backstage after every one of its regular concerts. Chapel is a staple in students’ weekly schedules, and student-led Vespers worship services on Sunday nights are “music and spirituality woven together,” says Veenker.
Another fond musical memory for Baustian is singing “The Bethel Hymn.” The lyrics, writes Baustian, were, “O sweeter than the Honeywell, deep in the sweetest rose in June, and all sweet things that tongue can tell on clover-scented afternoon, is friendship that has lived for years through fortune, failure, and through tears; is friendship that has lived for years through fortune, failure, and through tears.”
Another verse went, “But sweeter far the friendship we have known in fellowship with Thee; our hearts made one in Christian love that cometh from our God above; and so shall we eternally be closer drawn in love to Thee; and so shall we eternally be closer drawn in love to Thee.”
“I remember thinking while singing it, at age 22, ‘I don’t have any friendships like that.’ But as a result of the time at Bethel, those kind of friendships were formed that are lasting to this day,” says Baustian.
Like Baustian, Leafblad gives credit to Bethel—and the music that was a part of his time here—for shaping his life and giving him so many positive memories to look back on.
“Everything I learned at Bethel prepared me for a life I could never have imagined—in music and ministry both,” says Leafblad.
He married June (McGillivray) Leafblad ’62, and later earned a Master of Arts in Music Performance/Voice from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Church Music from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He had an illustrious and varied career in musical performance and ministry, most recently serving as minister of worship and music at the Church of Christ the King in Fort Worth, Texas. He’s currently a distinguished professor of church music and worship at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute in Arlington, Texas. Leafblad has also served as a guest professor and lecturer at locations across the country and around the world—from Canada to South Korea, the Philippines to Uganda. And yes, even back at Bethel.