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SMU Student Life: School Spirit

Mustang Band History

From the Autobiography of Volney Cyrus (Cy) Barcus
Transcribed by Barbara Jane Barcus from the original manuscript

This is a partial transcription of a taped interview with Cy Barcus in the 1980s. It was transcribed by his daughter, Barbara Jane Barcus. He spoke on many subjects of his life with the Mustang Band—and the rest of his very full life. As with all transcripts, there might be some problems with continuity. This is because we all speak differently than we write.

When I came to Dallas to apply for Director of the SMU band, I contacted Dr. H.M. Whaling in his cubby hole next door to Dr. Selecman's office. I guess I made a pretty good "selling job' in my interview because I got the place. I was just twenty years of age.

I remember I envisioned the band maybe ridin' on horses-maybe­mustangs-like the Culver Black Horse Troop. I had directed the band at Southwestern University; played solo cornet in the then-known and famous Old Grey Mare Band and was known to be a good "cornetist".

I had not been here a week until learned to my horror and disappointment -there was NO Mustang Band as such. It had been composed of only a few students who were in SMU, but "outsiders"; Highland Park High School students, "Alums" and others who "got together to get in" to see the football games.

The band uniforms were in sad disrepair. They looked like they might be uniforms in a third rate circus: red hussar type, white poorly fitting hot flannel pants with faded red stripe leggings, blue coat with flaming red cape like a bull fighter's cape in Mexico and high awkward looking hats; and the guys couldn't play- and I often said, "America in the Key of C with a week's notice!" It didn't take long to discover the causes of the problem:

The "no status" rating of the band, the high school students and "ringers" and the type of music they tried to play. The repertoire had such marches as "Ringling Bros. Circus March" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" and others which were all too difficult for their ability. Fortunately I hit upon a good happy, popular solution!

Victor Hugo once said, "Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come". This was "the time" of the "Gay 20's", raccoon coats, flappers, bell bottom pants, the roarin' twenties, the early part of the jazz age. I remember distinctively when it started: The Jazz age, in 1914...

But the band, such as it was, had no ability as such-"no status"-it literally was in disrepute-considered by most students as a hopeless joke- sounds pretty bad, and it was- and was I desperate!

My immediate effort/problem was to get those students who were in SMU to play in the band. It seemed to them to be a hopeless situation. Everybody I talked to said, "Oh, I don't have time (or inclination)". "I can't." "I won't". "Excuse me". "I'm sorry."

I am a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity. I was initiated in Zi Chapter at Southwestern University in 1923. Here at SMU at the KA House were two fine musicians. "Red" Mills, son of Dr. J.W. Mills, leading minister of the Texas Conference and his dance-band friend, Raymond Jasper-a "hot" trumpet player who could really "go to town" on a hot chorus. Mrs. Morefield, our housemother, was at the piano. They played all the latest popular dance tunes. I said to them, "You fellows! We need for you to help SMU develop a fine band." They replied, "We can't play this style of music in a brass band. It doesn't have the rhythm- the beat" - (a dance band swing).

So I made them a sporting proposition: "If I can get swing band-get the rhythm-get a dance band swing, will you play with us?" They agreed that they would!! So I got busy to try to develop a "Swing Rhythm". I went down to the roof of the Baker Hotel and studied "the beat". The secret of dance band rhythm"'

I saw that the "military" brass band music accents to 1 & 3 -the first beat of each 4/4 measure and the third. Example: "left right", "left right"-1-3. The dance band accents the two and four beat. It now seems very simple, very obvious now but no brass band had ever played "it" that way! Nobody back there then in 1924 had ever tried to get that kind of rhythm for a marching band.

I worked a week-every afternoon-with the drums, cymbals, brass horns and metalaphones- Learning to ACCENT the 2 & 4- instead of 1 & 3. The cymbals were held close together, and developed a "slap beat"-(after beat)­ the snare drums beat in rhythmic style-2&4 and cut the "licky-dick-dick" fancy stuff. Then I brought the other instruments of the band in.

There was a popular little ditty. "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes." It had a simple melody easy to improvise or "Swing".

There was a popular "energy tonic" like Geratol called Peruna. So put the two ideas together - Peruna for pep: then "Comin' round the mountain" for music. "She'll be loaded with Peruna when she comes!"

We went to the first football game of the season- (1924) As I remember it we were playing Southwestern University. Anyway, when we played that "dance band rhythm swing: the first time, it electrified the crowd!! I remember when a football play started on the far side of the stadium where the band and student body were sitting, the play came through and the left end came across the field and stopped right in front of where we were seated. Both teams, the officials and entire student body cheered! That was the beginning of Jazz in SMU!!

Other Southwest Conference schools immediately began copying the "jazz style" (I called it MY style). Rice began playing "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet with Blue Ribbons on it and Hitch Old Dobbin to the Sleigh". TCU got in the act -but none of them then or today have ever been able to "get the sound", Example: Other bottle drinks have never been able to get the secret of "The Coca Cola" taste.

After the first appearance at that first game the band immediately became popular and from then on it was no problem to get men to play. That is the way it all started, and for sixty years-(it hardly seems that long), the same style, the same tune, the same "Idea", yes MY idea-haven't changed. Tho' it has been "refined" and sometimes today-sometimes it isn't as good (soul appealing) as then--! I think!

I am impressed today that they still use the flutter tongue introduction to Peruna - the way that I started it. - - -Many times I couldn't get the band's attention so I took my long model cornet and gave the "flutter" to get attention- and then when all were ready- "we played".

History of Peruna

The Mascot

From the Autobiography of Volney Cyrus (Cy) Barcus
Transcribed by Barbara Jane Barcus from the original manuscript

I introduced the idea of the little pony to be the SMU mascot and named him "Peruna". Bob Goodrich and I were out on a picnic in a wooded area near Vickery near the old Sherman-Denison interurban stop. I saw a little black pony run through the high weeds and said, "That pony would make a good mascot for SMU".

I went to Coach Ray Morrison with my suggestion. He liked it, so at the next pep meeting we introduced "Peruna" to the students. The idea immediately met with unanimous approval - Eleanor Southgate was the SMU coed who brought the pony to the first pep meeting. Her picture was made for the Dallas newspapers.

The original pony was killed a year after I left SMU. He was in the charge of Wilson Goodrich, Bob's brother, who tied the horse with a small rope which he evidently broke. An automobile hit the pony and it was killed. There is a concrete memorial in front of Ownby Stadium in memory of the first SMU mascot.

The original pony, it was widely decided, was too large and not "frisky" enough for the prancing Mustangs. My friend, "Cully" Culwell (now deceased) saw the nature of the publicity and offered to provide conveyance for Peruna. He has also furnished ever since a fine trailer for Peruna and today there is no problem of transportation… think that the present pony is No. 6. The Culwell Ranch is near SMU.

History of the Pony Ears

In 1958, the SMU football team developed a symbol for team unity after a disagreement with the coaching staff. This two-finger hand sign was given the meaning of “V for Victory” which drew the attention of the crowd, who began using the V-sign while cheering. However, today’s meaning did not come about until the mid-1970s, when cheerleader, Roy Bailey, felt that SMU ought to have a hand sign to compete with the Baylor bear claws and the Texas horns. Thus, the popularity of the old sign was rekindled with a different meaning: pony ears. As the usage of the sign increased, the shape also changed to better represent the ears of Peruna, the midget pony of SMU. The stiff V-shape of the 1950s, relaxed into a curved sign to represent the floppiness of pony ears. The pony ears are used whenever the Varsity is sung and in most every SMU cheer.

History of Varsity, SMU School Song

In 1916, SMU theology student Lewis N. Stuckey wrote the words and music to Varsity. His friend and roommate Harrison Baker made some suggestions in wording, but Stuckey is the sole author.

On March 5, 1924, Stuckey recalled the history of the song in an interview with Semi-Weekly Campus. While a student at SMU, Stuckey also served as a student pastor of the Carrollton and Farmers Branch churches. "I was coming into school over the Preston Road. For miles I could see the University ahead of me. Feeling fine, I went to singing. How, I do not know, but someway, the words and music of Varsity just naturally came together and by the time I stopped the car in front of the administration building the song was composed."

Stuckey continued, "Sometime later, in the spring, I had my good friend Harrison Baker come to Carrollton to lead the singing in a revival. During this time I sang the song to him, and through the meeting we sang it several times. Had it not been for the fact that Harrison Baker learned the song, it would probably never have been known for he introduced the song into SMU."(March 5, 1924) Baker was the president of the Glee Club and shared the song with SMU Music Professor Harold Hart Todd. The Glee Club was the first group to sing the song publicly.

After his graduate studies at SMU, Stuckey served as a prominent Methodist Minister in Texas and across the nation. 

In 1929, Varsity was adopted by SMU as its official school song. In that same year, Professor Todd (SMU's first band director from 1917 to 1924) published the song using his arrangement with Stuckey's approval. The notice on the sheet music said "Copyright 1929 by Harold Hart Todd."