‘The Mountains’: The College’s treasured — and sometimes forgotten — school song

Emily Swope

“The Mountains” pays tribute to the College’s natural environment. (Luke Chinman/The Williams Record)

Most current students at the College know “The Mountains” as the song that is played on the campus bells to announce the glorious start of Mountain Day. But beyond its annual appearance on campus, the tune has a long and treasured history, and has served as an important source of connection for many alums over the years.

“The Mountains” was composed by Washington Gladden, Class of 1859, in the winter of his senior year at the College. It was regarded as an instant hit among students, according to a report written by College archivist Sylvia Kennick-Brown.

Over the last century and a half, “The Mountains” remained a fixture of College tradition and charm. Alums who graduated between the 1960s and the 1990s recalled memorizing the lyrics as first-year students. 

In an interview with the Record, Kevin Weist ’81 pulled out a pamphlet from his first year at the College, explaining that it was the equivalent to today’s WSO. The lyrics to “The Mountains” were printed inside.

Peter Everett ’96 also found the song’s lyrics printed in a pamphlet left over after the Homecoming football game, which he said he used to learn the lyrics. 

“After all the Homecoming parties, we were wandering back from one party — I think we were going back to Mission — and one of us found the program,” Everett remembered. “We started singing the song and learning the lyrics, and I belted out a couple of verses right in front of one of the dorms.”

Other students learned the song through campus performing groups. “Practically my first week at Williams,” Emily Bruce ’07 said, “the concert choir was asked to sing at some kind of alumni event, and so we learned all four verses.” 

Michael Ebert ’95 had a similar experience in the marching band. “It was almost like a rite of passage,” he said. “You would come to school, and when you were a freshman, seniors would be like, ‘Hey, there’s this song, and we all know the words. You’ve got to learn it.’”

Bruce explained that even though she, as a member of the choir, knew the song, she felt that “for a long time there’s definitely [been] division within the campus” based on who knew the song. As generations of students have graduated, the song’s popularity has left with them. 

Today, students no longer encounter lyrics to “The Mountains” in paper handbooks like they once did. Riya Juneja ’26 found it a missed opportunity for the school to sing as a community. “I think it would be fun if it was something we did more often,” she said. “But also, I don’t know where we would do it, because we don’t have assemblies for the whole school.”

Instead, the song primarily lives on for members of performance groups. “I actually use it as a bonding experience for the choir, because they’re all coming from different [backgrounds],” said Lecturer in Music Anna Lenti, who serves as the College’s choir director and teaches the song ahead of Mountain Day every year. “I have a lot of athletes, I have artists, I have music majors and theatre kids, and so it was a nice way to be like, ‘We’re all Williams people. We’re gonna learn this song together.’” 

Ebert agreed that the song brought him closer to the campus community while he attended the College. “I do feel like it’s a connection to the school,” he said, explaining that everyone from members of a cappella groups to athletes on the rugby team was familiar with the tune.

“You’ve got these groups that may not have overlapped a whole lot, but they all knew the song,” he said. “Songs can be a way to have some common thread that you can share with classmates.”

Ebert, along with other alumni, explained that his feeling of connection to the College community through “The Mountains” has persisted after his graduation. “It’s nostalgic and evocative of all that time,” he said. “If the Alumni Office pumps out some commemorative thing about fall at Williams and that’s the soundtrack, it rings a bell. It makes you think about your time there [and] how great it was. It puts you back in the positive memories of your early twenties and late teens.”

Some alumni also feel specifically connected to the song because of its emphasis on the College’s physical surroundings, especially when the campus and the College itself seem to be constantly changing. “Personally, I think it is a fitting song for our alma mater, not necessarily the song itself, but that it is about the mountains,” Holly Lowy Bernstein ’93 told the Record in an interview. “In many ways, campus feels so changed … but it still feels just like Williams because the backdrop of the mountains remains exactly the same.”

“I think it would be nice if everybody knew at least one or two of these songs that could be sung together,” Weist said, considering the song’s future at the College. “There’s nothing quite like singing together in a group, right? … I think it would be wonderful if [‘The Mountains’] had a revival.”