Shenandoah University has premiered “We Will Rise,” a virtual performance crafted to interpret the internationally acclaimed song “We Will Rise” composed by Stefan Youngblood ’85 (Bachelor of Music in Music Education) and 75 choir participants and seven soloists from around the world. The project was produced and music directed by Associate Professor of Voice and Director of Choral Activities Matt Oltman, D.M.A. Video was edited by Donald Fraser of Fraser Music Interactive, and Simon Kiln of Abbey Road Studios served as the sound editor and balance engineer. The instrumental recording was produced by Youngblood and edited by Kurt Masterllor. Eric Terlizzi provided the instrumental arrangement. Distinguished Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Production & Recording Technology and Film Studies Paul DiFranco assisted with licensing. Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., spearheaded the idea and served as the executive producer for the project.
Twenty Shenandoah University students, alumni and faculty members participated in the project. Six countries were represented, including the United States, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, India and Nepal, with choirs from Shenandoah University (USA), University of Pretoria TUKS Camerata (South Africa), Pacific Youth Choir (USA), Choral Chameleon (USA) and Empire City Men’s Choir (USA), as well as individuals from Canada, India, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gospel/broadway singer/songwriter Cinnamon Ruth Leggett and Indian singer/actress Suneeta Rao were some of the featured collaborators of renowned acclaim.
The song was originally written by candlelight on September 15,1995, as the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Marilyn devastated the Caribbean in the middle of the night. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) adopted the slogan ’We Will Rise!’ and they used the song to spread hope. This year, the song celebrates 25 years of traveling the globe, being translated in multiple languages in times of crisis for countries including Haiti, where they recorded a new version in Creole which was featured on the ‘Delilah Show’; Nepal after an earthquake killed thousands; Myanmar after cyclone Nargis killed 138,000, and more.
“As destructive as these events were, none had the global impact of COVID-19/ coronavirus, nor were they as devastating to the physical and mental health or the livelihood of so many people,” said Dr. Oltman. “It is for this reason that Stefan [composer], Tracy [executive producer and Shenandoah University president] and I reached out to individuals and choral contacts throughout the world to invite their participation in a new virtual choir recording of ‘We Will Rise!’ It is our hope that with their help we can create a musical statement of solidarity that reflects the truly global nature of this crisis and our need, as vocalists and choral musicians, to use our gifts to create positive change even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
The creative process was collaborative and challenging in its nature. Some participants are COVID-19 survivors, some had to drive a significant distance in order to have enough bandwidth to upload their videos and some had a very narrow recording window each day due to the city noises that included roosters in the morning, dogs at night and the regular passage of trains and buses. Despite an array of challenges, participants held on to the hope within the project as many individual singers had previously performed the song as a response to recovery from local natural disasters.