new song was sung at Gettysburg National Cemetery during this year's commemoration
of Lincoln's Address, given there 138 years ago on November 19, 1863.
The song, "We Shall Rise", was written by Alaskan songwriter
and legislative aide Dave Stancliff in the days following the tragedies
of September. Akin to Lincoln's address, it is a song of hope, a song
of healing, a song that honors those lost and those left behind.
It was prompted not
by the ancient dead of the Civil War, but by the recent losses in New
York City and at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. It's
premiere at the National Cemetery was the first of four performances of
the song that day.This is the story of that song, and that day. It is
also the story of how a ninth generation American from Alaska with a serious
folksinging habit and a Blues singer and guitarist from North Carolina
came together with other people of good will in Gettysburg and around
the nation to do something positive in response to the events of September
11th. By his own account, Stancliff was not content with the helplessness
that came from watching the towers of the World Trade Center fall again
and again on the news. He began writing:Here we are left behind when our
loved ones had to go.Here we are left to fill lonely spaces here below.But
we shall rise....past mighty towers tall.We shall rise...........rise
up from the fall....As the song came into shape, Stancliff began looking
to Gettysburg, a place where President Lincoln offered an address that
changed a nation over the fresh graves of tens of thousands of Americans,
a place that resonates in sympathy every time a great and senseless loss
of life occurs. He left his job, withdrew some of his retirement funds
and headed to Pennsylvania with a song in his pocket and a guitar under
his arm. And he began scrambling, talking to everyone he knew about the
song and his plans to give it to the American people, to record it and
provide the proceeds from its sales to the survivors fund for the firefighters.
He had a dream and no clear way to it. But he had the dream. It was Charles
Williams, a renowned, classically trained singer and vocal coach, who
connected Stancliff with the singer who became co-producer, arranger and
vocalist for the song. Stancliff called Williams from his log cabin in
Tok, Alaska, told him about his project and then laid the phone down on
the table and played the song into the receiver. When he finished, Williams
was in tears. The song had moved him deeply. And he gave Stancliff one
name: "Scott Ainslie. You need to get Scott Ainslie to sing this
song."Williams called Ainslie at his home in Durham, NC, and told
Ainslie's answering machine that he'd given his name to an Alaskan songwriter
and friend for a recording project in Gettysburg. According to Ainslie,
his enthusiasm was obvious. Then email arrived from Stancliff with a link
to a rough guitar demo of the song that was up on Stancliff's website.
Ainslie listened to that, had a conversation with Stancliff on the phone
and they went to work focusing the song lyrics.
They were simply two
strangers linked by an idea. Stancliff had a recording studio lined up
to donate time and expertise, he had other musicians signing on to help
with the track. He and Ainslie scheduled a recording session in Gettysburg.
Stancliff was nervous. He'd never heard Ainslie sing. He'd never met him,
knew nothing about him other than what he could extrapolate from the lyric
changes Ainslie suggested and how he'd argued for them. Stancliff was
going on faith. The
whole project was running on faith, hope, goodwill, and Stancliff's savings.Through
a series of recording sessions at Catalyst Studios in Gettysburg, "We
Shall Rise" began to take shape. Ideas were pursued and dropped,
tracks were added and then trashed. Dozens of people became involved in
the project. Stancliff began looking for places to perform the song, advancing
the song during the day and recording, mixing, and losing sleep over it
at night. Stancliff says, "It was endless work to get from a vision
in the Alaskan wilderness to Lincoln's date in the National Cemetery in
Gettysburg."November 19th was the deadline, the
anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It seemed fitting.
The song was added
to the program for the commemoration which began at 10:00 a.m.. It was
slated to be performed in the Legislature in Harrisburg at 1:00 p.m. It
was welcomed onto the program for the annual gathering of a thousand emergency
services workers in Harrisburg, along with the Governor of Pennsylvania,
at 7:00 p.m. And, finally, it was chosen to close a scholarly conference
on Lincoln and Slavery back at Gettysburg College at 9:00 that night.
Stancliff had been busy. After driving almost all night Sunday, Ainslie
met Stancliff at Gettysburg National Cemetery at 8:15 a.m. According to
Ainslie: "Fifteen hundred people showed up to hear a remarkably accurate-looking
Lincoln impersonator give a folksy version of the Address, to hear Senator
Durbin speak on sacrifice and resolve, to hear a local baritone sing an
accapella version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, followed by the
premiere of "We Shall Rise", and the benediction."Ainslie
was introduced and spoke briefly about the project's volunteer nature,
announced that the proceeds from the song were going to the fund for the
lost firefighter's families, and introduced Dave Stancliff, who was in
the crowd. Ainslie then noted, "Following the eleventh of September,
Stephen Jay Gould, writing in the New York Times, made the observation
that while it takes years of painstaking labor to raise a building up,
it takes only minutes to bring it down. And similarly, in what Gould called
'the Great Asymmetry' of human life, every quick and devastating act of
violence and hatred by terrorists or dictators is counterbalanced by tens
of thousands of often un-attributable daily acts of kindness and compassion.
We offer this song," Ainslie continued, "as part of our contribution
to create that balance."In the quiet of the lifting fog, Ainslie
offered "We Shall Rise" to its first audience, singing its chorus
twice at the end to prolonged applause:We Shall Rise, rise up from the
fall.We Shall Rise, on the wings they've given us all.We Shall Rise, over
every hateful wall!We Shall Rise up from the fall.Ainslie and Stancliff
exchanged a handshake and a few words after the end of the ceremonies
and then Stancliff headed for Harrisburg, while Ainslie broke down the
sound equipment. He was asked to autograph the lyrics in the program by
some audience members.
According to Ainslie,
"While I was signing autographs, a man was standing patiently in
line behind a family of four kids, who all wanted autographs. As he got
to me, he said, 'I have a special one for you. Make it to Lisa. Lisa Beamer.'"Todd
Beamer was the man on the plane that was crashed into the field in Pennsylvania
who was overheard on his cellphone to say, 'Are you guys ready? Let's
roll.' Lisa is his widow, the mother of their two children. Ainslie said,
"I stood quietly for a moment in the tumult of the crowd, brought
suddenly so close to history and tragedy, with the program and lyrics
of the song on the hood of the Volvo. I wrote a note to Lisa Beamer, assuring
her that she was in our prayers, and asking her to please send us an address
so that we could get her a copy of the song.
While Ainslie was
signing autographs and loading sound equipment, Stancliff was looking
for parking near the Capitol in Harrisburg, where the song was to be introduced
and to become the first song ever sung on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Ainslie followed him there and they hooked up on the floor of the House,
a couple of guys with guitars.Stancliff's presentation of the song followed
the introduction of an Italian delegation. When Stancliff asked the legislators
to rise, they all came to their feet clapping through the last chorus
and beyond. Ainslie and Stancliff toured the Capitol, dedicated in 1906,
with the head of Restoration and then headed over to the Emergency Services
Banquet. One thousand commanders of fire companies and emergency services
from all over Pennsylvania came together at the Radisson in Harrisburg
for their conference banquet and a program featuring the Governor. As
Ainslie describes it, "The Governor was held up and so the agenda
was juggled, putting us before his remarks. Just prior to the song, a
seventeen minute video from ABC was shown, profiling a fire company in
NYC that was shot and first aired a couple years ago. It was re-edited
and aired again after September 11th. Throughout the video firemen were
shown talking about how dangerous the work could be, how much they loved
it, how while their families were afraid for them as they began each day,
they were also proud of them. "In the re-edited version we were watching,
there were titles burned in as the men were talking: their names, their
rank and fire company, and the words 'Missing: 9/11/01'. For an audience
of a thousand firefighters, the video hit hard. Perhaps twenty-five proud,
smiling men, profiled in the midst of doing the work they loved---to a
man, all of them were gone.
After the video, all
the Master of Ceremonies said was, "Please welcome to the rostrum,
Scott Ainslie." Ainslie says, "I bet you never thought there'd
be a guitar player on the bill tonight," and put on his guitar. Then
he continues, "We've just seen an amazing document. And we can all
be grateful to ABC for sharing it with us this evening. But we also know
that before long, a new story will come along and capture the media's
attention, and the bright lights and cameras will turn away. And we also
know that when that happens, you, and the men and women you work with,
will still be running into burning buildings to save our lives and our
property." And he goes on, "This song is our way of saying 'Thank
you' to all of you."There were a lot of fire fighters fighting back
tears when the song was done. Ainslie introduced Stancliff for a few words
about their hopes and plans for the funds raised by the song. Then the
Governor was introduced. He seemed genuinely moved by the song and after
starting his remarks, called for another round of applause for "Dave
and Scott". Ainslie said, "It was amazing to sing this song
in these two contexts on its first day: Gettysburg National Cemetery,
and in front of a thousand firefighters. I feel like we've sung for both
the living and the dead today. We have one more to go." Following
the Emergency Service's Banquet, Stancliff sang the song again to conclude
an evening lecture and conference on Lincoln and Slavery at Gettysburg
College. He followed Ira Berlin who was making the argument that history
and memory were different. He said that if ten thousand people all remembered
the same thing, this was still not history. History is contained in documents
and artifacts. It is compiled; it is written. Memory carries emotion.
It is unstable. And Berlin, having made this distinction, closed by advancing
the idea that we need to make a place in history for emotion and memory;
and we need to find a place in memory for history. Neither unto itself
is sufficient. To fully understand what's happened to us, we need both.
Placing the song on the heels of his argument seemed like a perfect way
to end the day. And Ainslie says, "Then we collapsed."
Here we are---left behind---when
our loved ones had to go.
Here we are---left to fill------lonely spaces here below.
But we shall rise, we shall rise---past mighty towers tall.
We shall rise, we shall rise----we shall rise up from the fall.
Along our streets, we will miss they're daily smiles.
Along our streets, we'll be lifted from our trials,
Along our streets, with our memories great and small,
We will rise up from the fall.
We shall rise, rise up from the fall.
We shall rise, on the wings they've given us all.
We shall rise, over every hateful wall.
We will rise up from the fall.
With their lives, we'll be taken to new heights.
With their lives, we'll turn darkness into light,
With their lives, when we hear the trumpet's call
We will rise up from the fall.
They'll all be waiting, up around the bend.
They'll all be waiting, the circle never ends.
They'll all be waiting, when you hear them call...
Come and rise up from the fall.