When the Lynx statue that now sits proudly between the Learning Commons and the Wellness Center at CU Denver was unveiled in July 2021, the CU Denver community came together to celebrate. During that gathering, a conversation between two people led to an intriguing question: Why doesn’t CU Denver have an alma mater (school song)?
Enter the College of Arts & Media (CAM), the University’s one-stop-shop for all things creative arts. The alma mater project, initiated by Mark Rabideau, CAM’s Associate Dean for Faculty and Student Affairs, came to fruition largely due to the talented folks who make up CAM. The newly minted alma mater will make its public debut at the May 2023 Commencement when it is performed by a group of three CAM students and one alum. Shortly afterward, two of those CAM students will take to the stage again to receive their own diplomas.
40 music students + 2 faculty members - The project started in class. Two CAM faculty members, Andrew Pettit and Becca Stevens, led about 40 students as they brainstormed what should be included in a song representing CU Denver. Pettit is an ethnomusicologist and taught the students how music and culture interact in a variety of contexts. Stevens, a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, engaged the students in a variety of creativity and songwriting exercises. The students took into consideration the school’s past and future as they formed their ideas. “For part of their final project, the students wrote a couple verses and a chorus which Becca then used to craft the lyrics herself,” Pettit explains. Stevens also crafted the song’s composition.
1 composer – Composer Shelbie Rassler then took the composition and lyrics Stevens finalized and crafted three arrangements of the song: an a cappella (voices only) version, a strings version for formal events, and a version for vocals and instruments.
Next it was time for the performers to teach the song to the CU Denver community.
4 strings musicians - A quartet of strings, led by Professor Gregory Walker, performed the formal version of the alma mater. Walker says Rassler’s string version of the alma mater was so complex he had to recruit “some of Denver's top string players to play it.” The quartet was composed of Walker on violin, Summer Lusk of the Colorado Music Institute on violin, Basil Vendryes of the Colorado Symphony on viola, and Evan Shelton, CAM faculty member, on cello.
3 students + 1 faculty member – Sam McGuire, Associate Professor of Recording Arts, took the lead to record the formal, strings version of the alma mater. Assisted by two students studying sound engineering, Hayden Hallat and Parker Gates, McGuire and the students ensured the University has a high-quality recording of the new song. While McGuire says the string quartet arrangement and the level of musical talent on display “blew us away,” he was also impressed by his students’ dedication to excellence and experimentation during the recording session. “We used 13 microphones because in addition to tried-and-true methods, the students wanted to push technological barriers. We used spatial audio techniques and even recorded the session with a 360° camera in order to have an immersive experience,” McGuire said.
8 music students + 1 faculty member - The eight-part vocal phenomenon known as LARK, under the direction of Associate Professor Erin Hackel, recorded the a cappella version to be featured in a music video. The video will capture the group’s artistry combined with shots of CU Denver’s campus.
15 film students + 1 faculty member + 1 alum + 1 staff member – Members of CU Denver’s Film & Television (FiTV) stepped up to help capture the visual story of the song through videos of recordings and performances. Film students interviewed people on the “streets” of CU Denver about the community they experience on campus on a daily basis. They also captured musical performances and will produce the instructional video to teach the community how to sing the new alma mater. Students Porter Hunt, Said Ciscernos-Toledo, Abigail Pellien, Tim Brown and alum Ariana Muniz (’21), led by Professor Andrew Bateman and assisted by staff member Ben Hunter in FiTV’s film cage, made a large part of this filming possible.
4 musicians – A group consisting of three current music students, Verena Fuentes, Finn O’Sullivan, and Genevieve Glimp, and Katharine Yeager (’22), an alum and CAM staff member, are leading the charge in teaching the CU Denver community how to sing the song. The group has already taught the song to CU Denver’s cabinet members, including Chancellor Michelle Marks, and are making an instructional video to share with the broader University community.
When the incoming class of students comes to campus this fall, they will be greeted with an alma mater that tells the story—past, present, and future—of CU Denver.
“It's really been an honor to be a part of CU Denver's history like this,” says Yeager. “Already, it's been wonderful to hear people sing it with us and watch the song become just what an alma mater should be: a tool that brings everyone together to celebrate their collective story.”
Written by Megan Briggs-Pintel, CAM Communications