When the American University’s Symphonic Band and Orchestra’s outdoor concert was canceled this spring, Director of AU Orchestra and Band Matthew Brown decided to give students another opportunity to perform together again. The result is a beautiful, uplifting, and completely virtual rendition of American University’s Alma Mater—a composition that was previously “lost” for decades.
A Chance to Sing Together Again
When Emily Sherman (BA music ’20) first heard about the alma mater project, she was excited. “Since I'm a senior and have been missing a lot of performance opportunities and experiences on campus this semester, it was great to be able to sing with my music program family again,” she said. “I jumped on the opportunity to contribute to a project that could raise the spirits of everyone stuck at home and bring the AU music department together through the internet! It was a wonderful experience both learning the alma mater and seeing the finished product.”
A Lost Alma Mater
When Brown heard about colleagues at other institutions pulling together virtual concerts, he was intrigued. He wanted to perform something uplifting and unique to American University and immediately thought of the Alma Mater. But there was a problem: Brown didn’t know the Alma Mater. Not only that, but he couldn’t find it anywhere.
Brown finally reached out to Leslie Nellis, associate archivist at American University Library. “She was wonderful,” Brown said. “She sent me links to old documents and digitized information. She found the Alma Mater in the 1928 yearbook. It was written in the 1920s, hiding in plain sight in that yearbook.”
The Making of an Online Ensemble
Brown got to work, along with Brendan Moriak (BA music ’22) who was doing a three-credit independent study on concert production with Brown. “Brendan is a brilliant composer and arranger,” says Brown. “He has a very strong skill set as an arranger and has incredible technical skills.”
They devised a plan. They created a metronome for students to play along with. They took the original piano music and wrote it out for the orchestra and band and produced a computer-generated version of what the music would sound like. They sent it to students. The students then wore headphones while recording their parts—right in their homes. They made videos, transferred the files, and Moriak lined up all the videos into the virtual performance.
It sounds simple, but it was a big job. “This project turned out to be a monster of a task, between arranging, mixing, and editing,” says Moriak. “That being said, I would do it all over again. Music has a way of transporting people into different worlds and no matter how much work it takes, it is always worth it to see your creative efforts bring emotional positivity to people’s lives, especially in times such as these.”
Across the university, the piece has brought the community together, even though they are physically far apart. “So proud of our music program for producing an uplifting and beautiful piece of music,” says Fanta Aw, vice president of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. Aw’s department sponsored the original outdoor concert. “An opportunity for the AU community to rejoice even for a moment and to celebrate the talent of our students and faculty.”
Appearing in video (left to right, top to bottom): Rose Richtmyre, flute Megan Long, flute Lucy Opalka, flute Meaghan Davis, oboe Jacob Niederman, clarinet Julia Neff, French horn Hannah Diamond, voice Emily Sherman, voice Sylvie Wickwire, voice Harry Wise, trumpet Sarah Paster, violin Matthew Brown, viola Evan Holt, trombone Brian O'Gara, trombone Jongwon David Roh, 'cello Madelyn Zuckerman, violin Caroline Cascio, violin Robin Miller, viola Nancy Snider, 'cello Bobo Liang, 'cello
Numerous people beyond those appearing in the video contributed audio recordings: Kira Ashton, alto and tenor saxophones Carson Boches, piano Sydney Brammer, French horn Matthew Brown, vocal part Yannick Joseph, clarinet Roger Whitworth, French horn.