As Washtenaw Community College’s 50th anniversary approached, Performing Arts faculty members Tracy Jaffe and Dr. Joseph Daniel realized the college did not have an official song. So, they set out to write one themselves. No easy task, but together, Daniel, who composed the music and Jaffe, who wrote the lyrics, squeezed 50 years’ worth of WCC’s history of opening its doors to the community into a 40-second song appropriately titled, “Opening Doors.”
“We wanted to tell a story that captured WCC’s true spirit, essence and role within the community, so we were mindful of the wording we used with a focus on active verbs,” Jaffe said. “The lyrics and music are simple so that everyone can participate. The song was specifically written so that it could outlast the 50th anniversary. We want it to be timeless.”
The song has already been performed at various campus events, including last year’s Veterans Day ceremony and a celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
Jaffe and Daniel were not asked to write a 50th anniversary song. They wrote “Opening Doors” out of their love and appreciation for the college.
“What’s beautiful about WCC is that it’s been ‘opening doors’ for students who may have experienced more closed doors in their lives and had to overcome significant obstacles on their journey,” Daniel said. “So, it was an honor and privilege to be able to reflect that in this song.”
But it wasn’t easy. Unlike famous songwriting duos such as Elton John and Bernie Taupin or John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they couldn’t lock themselves away in a quiet room or studio for hours until they had the “perfect” song. Moreover, it was Jaffe and Daniel’s first time writing and composing music together.
“There was a job to do and I knew I had to come up with something,” Jaffe said. “You have to start somewhere so often I would jot down whatever ideas came to mind and then come back to them a day or two later.”
As for the music? “Knowing that our singers had to learn the song fairly quickly, the music is pretty academic and uses the fundamentals of music theory,” Daniel said. “I was passionate about wanting to create something that almost anybody could hum along to after only hearing it a couple times.”
And because creativity can strike at any time, Jaffe and Daniel found themselves playing phone tag when and wherever a new chord or lyric came to mind.
“Sometimes, I’d be driving in my car and I’d call Tracy and say, ‘You know, I think we should really change this part of the song,’” Daniel said. “It was important for us to set our egos aside and give each other honest feedback, which is easy to do when you’re working with one of your best friends.”
“I joke that we’re like (Paul) Simon and (Art) Garfunkel except that we actually like each other,” Jaffe added.
After months spent writing and rewriting lyrics and chord progressions and agonizing over certain phrases, Jaffe and Daniel say they are genuinely proud to have both their names attached to something they hope will go well beyond the WCC’s 50th anniversary as the college continues “opening doors” for another 50 years.
“It’s not something we take lightly,” Jaffe said. “We consider ourselves incredibly lucky.”
The WCC Chamber Singers Choral Ensembles will perform “Opening Doors” as part of its upcoming “Music: The International Language” concert. It is scheduled for April 23 at 7 p.m. at the Towsley Auditorium in the Morris Lawrence building.
This story originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of On the Record.