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Collaboration of Music and Poetry Showcases Pioneer Spirit

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DU Alumni Lend Writing and Musical Talents to Admissions Video


With its “Hamilton”-esque lyrics and accompanying score that makes for perfect chemistry between word and music, “Where Phenomenal Happens,” a video produced for the University of Denver’s office of Undergraduate Admissions, is striking all the right chords.

From its opening note and line you realize this is not your typical recruiting video, but rather a project with an emotional connection — a project “where purpose meets passion.” While some institutions may look to an outside agency to help develop this type and style of video, the catalyst for this project came from within DU. Featuring the talents of alumni Osa Aihie (BSBA ’16) and CJ Garcia (BM ’15), the video was produced, shot and edited by Tamara Banks and Jeff Haessler from DU’s Division of Marketing and Communications.

The video features music that aptly emphasizes lyrics like, “on these brick-battered floors we dance with principles of science,” and “armed with intellect and skepticism of the laws which govern space and time, to do what’s never been done … come with us to the forefront of exploration.” Aihie, who wrote the poem and narrated the video, and Garcia, who composed the music, worked independently to create just the right feel and sound for the video.

Osa Aihie
Osa Aihie

“I didn’t have the chance to work directly with CJ, but it awesome seeing his musical talent and what we created together in the final product,” said Aihie, who wrote the poem after being asked by the University to help out with the project. “DU has done a lot for me, so I saw it as a chance to give back.”

Aihie’s poem, with its raw and powerful words, was not conceived from one single experience. Instead, he said, it is the result of a number of experiences, ones that ultimately brought him closer to those around him.

“I believe [the video] showcases the wonders of the University, its current evolution and what it has the potential to be,” Aihie said. “I saw the video as a call to action for the DU community — students, staff and alumni — asking Pioneers to embrace positive change, take part in phenomenal things and build community. I don’t want people to miss out on each other due to differences.”

For his part of the video, Garcia collaborated with Christina Hunter, assistant director of admission and communication. Hunter sent him sample video links and some explanation for the feel she was looking for. From there, Garcia had free range to create his own story through music.

“For this particular project and the end result we were trying to achieve, I intentionally didn’t read the written version of Osa’s poem, and instead waited to have a recording of him reciting it,” Garcia said. “I still haven’t actually met Osa, but I’m incredibly familiar with Osa’s voice now.”

Garcia, who took writing, poetry and composition classes at DU, says he learned how we consume words through different filters and how our brain interprets words and makes its own creative choices relating to inflection, cadence, range and more. Using what he learned in those classes, Garcia was able to capture the essence of the poem and compose the musical background.

CJ Garcia
CJ Garcia

“To hear this poem for the first time by listening to Osa perform it, I was able to immediately capture the feelings of intensity, passion, mindfulness and the pride Osa intended, rather than making up or assuming the style he was wanting to achieve,” Garcia recalled. “It became easy from that point to write the music around his poem, because all I had to do was match his spoken performance with my music. By having the source material for this project being Osa’s voice, all I had to do was think of imitating his style, the way he builds his structure and the changing levels of intensity; the music just came out rather naturally from there.”

Once Garcia had the spoken track, he began the process of making sure each beat of his composition matched Osa’s rhythm and that the crescendos of the strings matched his lyrical build.

After Garcia sent in his final draft, Osa re-recorded his poem, making it a minute longer than the music. Garcia says he initially panicked when he received the final video and noticed the length was longer than the composition, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that the music and the lyrics came together perfectly.

“When I got the link to the final video I panicked, because the time at the bottom was a minute longer than I had written. But then I heard all of it put together and I felt relieved,” Garcia said. “They made excellent choices on how and where to stretch and place the different parts — it was like listening to something entirely new. All I could hear and feel was passion — passion for all that DU is and stands for, passion that turns into purpose, passion for being a Pioneer. And I know it sounds weird, and maybe it’s just me, but I could hear the colors of crimson and gold at the very end of it all.”