Carnegie Mellon University

School of Music

Where artistry and innovation share center stage

September 09, 2011


Guy Russo ends the call and sets the phone down. The conversation plays over and over in his mind for days.

Would he and his band “Broken Fences” write a song to honor the victims of Flight 93 during the national memorial dedication?

It was both a special request and a tall order from the Flight 93 National Memorial committee — one that the Carnegie Mellon University alum considered turning down.

“Initially, it was really intimidating,” said Russo (BHA’10), who earned his degree in music composition and linguistics. “I thought, ‘this is too big a task, this is too important. What if we mess it up?’” Lead vocalist Morgan Erina was living in New York City at the time of the attacks. Her father recalls seeing one of the planes hit the World Trade Center from his office. She had no reservations whatsoever about writing the song.

With Erina on board, Russo went about his daily work of a piano technician with his mind open to what he says started to feel like a calling. Then suddenly, a spark. While tuning a piano in the College of Fine Arts (CFA) building, an idea for the chorus popped into his head.

“I rushed home and called Morgan, and that night we worked out the whole structure of the song,” he said.

The pair poured over pages of 9/11 recollections online, watched the Flight 93 movie and listened to the phone calls passengers made to loved ones once they realized terrorists had hijacked their plane.

“We wanted to relive it, in a way, so we could really get inside the feel of it,” Russo said. The song — simply titled “93” — was recorded in the School of Music Recording Studio by Riccardo Schulz, associate teaching professor in the School of Music, and Haochuan Liu, who was visiting CMU from Beihang University, Beijing. Assisting in the recording was Jesse Soracco, vocal performance major and music technology minor at CMU.

Schulz did the editing and mastering, following suggestions from Russo and Erina to help realize the sound they had in mind for the final mix. “It was very relaxed. Riccardo was extremely supportive and generous with his time and skills,” Russo said.

The duo is expected to perform their song on Saturday at the memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the plane went down after passengers fought to overcome the hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Earlier that morning, two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City. A fourth struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. CMU commemorated the 10th anniversary of the attacks on America with a media panel hosted by the College of Engineering (CIT) on Friday, Sept. 9. Pradeep Khosla, dean of CIT and a cybersecurity expert, led the discussion “Media Memories: 9/11 Scribes.”

Panelists Bob Hagerty, who is news editor of The Wall Street Journal and Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, spoke to an overflow crowd about how the media braved fires and massive destruction to report one of the most dramatic news stories in history. Joining them was Richard Snodgrass, author and photographer of “An Uncommon Field,” a book of photos and short prose of the temporary Flight 93 memorial. Snodgrass’ book was published by CMU Press.

Following the event, engineering students collected thank you notes and condolences for the families of Flight 93 via their “Letters From Home” campaign.

On Sunday, bagpipers at CMU’s Pittsburgh campus will honor the memories of those who perished by playing at the exact times of each of the four plane crashes: 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:37 a.m. and 10:03 a.m.

A memorial ceremony will also be held Sunday at 10:00 a.m. at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

At 4:30 p.m., President Jared Cohon will lead a 30-minute program of music, readings and reflections on the CFA Patio (rain location Kresge Theater). Members of the NROTC will perform the lowering of the American flag ceremony at The Fence at 5:00 p.m. in remembrance.

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