RISE: the future is now

By The Beacon | February 23, 2011 9:00pm

(Photo Courtesy of University of Portland Facebook)

By Will Lyons, Staff Writer -- lyons14@up.edu

In the basement of Kenna Hall, between the boiler room and a pingpong table, Associate Director for Music Maureen Briare sits with one hand on a mouse pad and the other on a keyboard.

She likes the keyboard better and on occasion has the chance to not only pick songs for the University Singers to perform, but to compose them as well.

On Feb. 12 Briare's latest original creation, the RISE campaign's theme song "We Will Rise" was professionally recorded at Dead Aunt Thelma's studio.

"I knew I had something special on my hands when my kids started singing the chorus ‘We Will Rise' around the house," Briare said.

The idea to have a theme song for the $175 million dollar RISE campaign came from the Office of Marketing and Communications at the end of the spring 2010 term, when the fundraising campaign came up with its name, "RISE."

"Once Laurie Kelly (chief marketing officer) in marketing came to me with the idea, I immediately started thinking of musical images, like ascending phrases to go along with the idea of rising," Briare said.

For Briare, the most difficult part of composing the piece was putting together lyrics, until she realized her inspiration was already around her. Lines in "We Will Rise" include slogans from the School of Nursing, the motto of UP and charisms of the Holy Cross community.

Once she put together all the various arrangements for piano, brass and vocals, the only thing that remained for Briare was to find performers.

"All along I imagined someone like Julianne Johnson to be the lead singer for ‘We Will Rise,'" Briare said.

Johnson, an international recording artist and the first African-American graduate of the theater department at UP, performed the piece at the Dec. 3 winter gala where "We Will Rise" made its debut.

Performers on the recorded track include The University Singers, famous Portland artists, including bass player Phil Baker of Pink Martini, Rick Modlin on piano, Israel Ono on drums and Grammy-nominated saxophone player Patrick Lamb.

"(Baker, Modlin and Ono) recorded together so it was tight rhythmically," Briare said.

Once the percussionists finished, the University Singers took a shot at recording.

"It was a welcoming and warm studio," freshman Singer Garrett Athman said. "It was cool that we had the drums in the background while we were recording."

According to Briare, the recording of "We Will Rise" was the first professional recording experience for most of the singers.

"We warmed up, went though studio etiquette, split the song into verses and just went through it," Athman said. "It's nice to be in a choir where everyone cares about singing and is dedicated."

Briare was impressed with the singers' performance as well.

"I was proud of how they ‘rose' to the occasion," Briare said with a smile.

Music has always been an important part of Briare's life. She started playing the piano when she was 10 and quickly picked up other instruments like the guitar, the flute and the Celtic harp. She's performed at liturgical services for most of her life, and was in a Christian rock group named Channel Light.

"She's always been the kind of person who can pick up any instrument and be great at it," Joe Kuffner, her younger brother and the associate marketing director for UP, said.

Briare never expected composing music to be part of her career, but she's certainly glad itis.

"This is my calling and working at UP has been a blessing," Briare said. "Always be open to how life unfolds."

"We Will Rise" has a lot of life left in it. The Department of Marketing and Communications plans to use the song during fundraising events for the next three years, and will use the song itself as a fundraiser by offering it for downloads on iTunes.

"We Will Rise" hopes to reach even higher heights than iTunes.

"There's talk of the singers joining Julianne Johnson in concert, and perhaps even sending the recorded track to Oprah and the Obamas," Briare said. "Maybe America needs to RISE up as well."

With Johnson recording her part of the track this week, Briare's creation will finally be encoded as an all-important MP3.

"You never know, it might take on a life of its own," Briare said.

Maureen Briare (The Beacon)