The Making of The Fortress Stone

In the spring of 2006, Barb Stowell called me with the idea to do a song about the Constitution. She already had Jordan Bluth picked out and ready to sing the solo. We met as a committee in a conference room at town hall and spent hours late into the night trying to distill the vastness of the Constitution down to into ultra concise poetry. It was a great exercise in asking, "What is the core essence of this document?" Bill Norton and Jared Taylor have a huge depth of Constitutional knowledge as do others on the committee. So there was no shortage of insights or understanding. We kept trying to write a book, then got it down to an essay, but to get it down to poetry was a great challenge.

I went home and took a shot at it. After several attempts, I felt like I was making progress but still had a long way to go. The committee would come to my studio every couple of weeks to listen to my ideas and discuss. Barb, Bill, and Jaredwould come over every few days and we would scour the dictionary and thesaurus over extended and spunky debates. When I was quite young, my father took me to a series of Constitution classes taught by Cleon Skousen. Those classes made a huge impression on me and that fingerprint is definitely present in this song. Other members of the committee have similar experiences with Skousen and other Constitution scholars. This made for lively, but also inspiring dialog as to the purpose and meaning of this document that ultimately was the refining fire of this message.

Part of what made this task so elusive is that we had some pretty lofty goals for what we wanted to achieve with this song. We wanted to create an anthem of such quality and nobility that it could stand up side by side with our nations existing canon of patriotic music. We also realized that of all our great patriotic music, there isn't a nationally recognized song that is written specifically about the origin, meaning, and purpose of the Constitution. We wanted a piece of music that was dignified enough in style, and had enough depth in the message that it could take that spot in our national conscience and last for generations to come.

In order to do that, we sought to have enough depth, metaphor, poetry, and layers in the message that people would continue to find new meaning in it even after hearing it for years. How do you create a metaphor about the Constitution as beautiful and enduring as "Amber Waves of Grain"? Phrases like "sword and pen" are intended to create tangible imagery for the founder's actions and sacrifice that created the Constitution. I spent a lot of time considering what kind of physical metaphor symbolizes the Constitution itself. That goes back to the original question, "What is the core essence of this document?" Back in our first meeting at town hall, after hours of discussion, we concluded that above all, it is not a giver of rights, rather, it is a protector of rights divinely granted to all humanity. The image I came up with was that of a Fortress, a firm and enduring protector, rising up from a well of ancient ink providing shelter against the tyrants who would dim the light of freedom's flame. But, it is much more than just paper and ink. Just as a fortress is only as strong as the stones that make its walls, the Constitution is only as alive and strong as We the individual people who live it and safeguard it. A key goal from early on was to not only honor our forefathers who gave this to us, but to consider our role in preserving the Fortress for generations to come. There is a symbiotic duality between us and the Constitution that I tried to convey with the metaphor of a Fortress. The Fortress of paper and ink protects us. But, the paper and ink are nothing with out us living by it. A Fortress is really thousands and thousands of individual stones stacked thick and high. We as individuals are the stones. United together, We the stones are the Fortress. We are the protectors and we are the protected.

After multiple attempts, months of time, and no complete results, I was driving home alone from San Diego in June of 2006. As I drove, all the words began to come together. I had a digital recorder with me. So, I'd say a thought or a phrase into the recorder. Then, after I'd worked out a verse or chorus, I'd pull over and type it on my cell phone. By the end of that trip, I had three verses and a chorus written out completely on my cell phone that I emailed back to myself.

I knew this needed to be an orchestral piece because I believe that is the only style of music with enough majesty to convey the dignity of the subject material. And, the music had to live up to that majesty as well. The music needed the sacred reverence of a hymn, with the grand majesty of an anthem. The project stalled for several months looking for a way to achieve that reverent majesty both in the writing of the music and in the production of the recording. We hoped to premiere at the 2006 Constitution Week Fair, but agonizingly missed it after several false starts. After that, the project went dormant for a while. I didn't forget about it, but stopped thinking about it for a while. Then in December 2006 I was at Disney World and saw the "Hall of Presidents". I've never seen that before and was surprised at how moved I was by it. Here was a visual history of the legacy left by the Constitution. These weren't kings or men of royal birthright. They were common men elected for a season with power to be passed peacefully on to the next. Sure they had flaws and some had many. But they had fought wars and tyranny and for over two centuries were some of the foundation stones, a few were even cornerstones that held up our Constitutional Fortress. I remember being distinctly impressed with the dignity and nobility of the presidential office and by extension, the institution that is our government. As ragged as it can seem at times, its framework remains elegant. A few minutes later I was standing in line at Thunder Mountain and a tune started coming to me based on the words I'd written that previous summer. "Since time began the greed of man has sought to bind his brother's hand." I wrote the note names on my cell phone and when I got back to the hotel, I opened my music notation software on my laptop and started writing before I forgot how it went. That was enough to get the ball rolling. When I got back home to my piano, I was able to finish the music to the verses and chorus based on that original idea. It isn't much exaggeration to say that to some degree, I wrote this song on a cell phone. The lyrics on Interstate 8 and the music at Thunder Mountain. Ironically, the solution to the majestic orchestra eventually ended up being right under my nose. In the fall of 2006, Jordan recorded his debut solo album with a gorgeous orchestral production. I called Jordan immediately for contact information. Arranger Lisle Moore and Producer Judd Maher connected immediately and exactly with my vision of reverent majesty. But, I had to finish the song first.

I often hear people say now that each time they listen to this song, they hear something new that they didn't catch before. That was very much a desired result from early on. I didn't want it to be just a fluffy "feel good" song. I wanted something that would teach, inspire, and call people to action. By March of 2007, I had a verse and chorus that I felt did this, but still there was something missing. I also needed to balance the teaching and depth with an emotionally compelling message that people could embrace immediately at the first hearing. I realized that I was missing the emotional and stirring climax that would bring people to their feet and send chills up their back. In my late night dialogs with Barb, Bill, and Jared about the song, we came to call that the "Barb Factor". The education component was the "Bill Factor", but we needed both. So, in the spring of 2007, I added "Hear the call...Sing the song of Freedom... Liberty flows in the blood and the soul, of We the people sheltered by the Fortress Stone." Then I started digging around in my piano for something that matched musically. Looking back, that is now the defining message of the song. I remember being in the studio with Jordan after the orchestra and choir were all done. We got to that last chorus and I said half to be funny, but half because I really felt the power of this message, "Jordan, now when you sing this, I want you to raise your fist!" We all kind of laughed at my tongue in cheek melodrama. But, on the other hand, that is really what we are saying. I don't mean that we raise our fist in anger. I mean, we should all raise our fist in resolve, allegiance, commitment, and action to hold up the very Fortress that protects us. There are forces that would destroy it and the freedom it defends if we don't raise up something of ourselves to be part of the very fabric, the stone by stone structure of the Fortress.

This has been the most challenging, yet rewarding piece of music I've ever attempted. It took over a year from Barb's first phone call to Jordan's amazing final high C. In between was countless hours of struggle to extract the essence of one of the greatest documents of human history into music and lyric. I had the privilege of writing it. But the vision to create it was made for me by Barb Stowell, Bill Norton, and Jared Taylor. I fed off Bill and Jared's deep understanding of the document, Barb's passion to have people celebrate it, and both of their drive to help people love and live it. The three of us spent countless late nights agonizing over how to get this song to reach those lofty goals. Did we make it? It is hard to say now, and only time will tell. But, we tried, and the experience was an absolute life highlight for me. I believe completely in the message of this song. I have a deep love for our nation and its Constitution. I love Gilbert Constitution Week because it is a place for me to take my kids and give them a small piece of what I was given when I was young, an exposure, understanding, and a love for the thing that keeps us free. Hopefully this Anthem to the Constitution will add some depth and fire to that experience for mine and many other families for years to come.

Jason Barney
September 4, 2007


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