Senior Project

I began working on The Rising when I was traveling in Eastern Europe. Originally the idea was to write a series of songs about war, but almost everything I was coming up with felt contrived and irrelevant. It was so frustrating that I almost gave the whole thing up, but then I got to Poland.

I had several very intense and important things happen to me while I was in Poland and they defined my focus from then on. I began reading about the Nazi genocide, Jewish resistance, and Jewish culture. In a bookshop in Kazimierz, the Jewish neighborhood in Krakow, I picked up “Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi, “Words to Outlive Us” about the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising that took place there, “A Hole in the Heart of the World: The Jewish Experience in Eastern Europe After WWII,” “Smoke Over Birkenau,” and a book of stories of Jewish Mystics throughout the centuries.

I began to write. I had some words and guitar parts at first, then gradually the songs came together. I wanted them to be for a band so I wrote for electric guitar, bass, and drums.

When I was 17 or 18 I saw a video recording of Metallica playing with the San Francisco Symphony. Since then I’ve wanted to orchestrate songs. I figured my Senior project was a good time to do just that.

At first I thought I would just use the string section and a pair of French horns, but then I wrote an Oboe line for one of the songs and somehow I went from there to writing for the whole orchestra. I spent most nights staring at a keyboard for hours on end. The times when ideas came were wonderful; the rest of it felt like I was bashing my head into a wall. I ran my ideas by James Johnston and he gave me comments and pointers. I finally finished one day at 7:00 in the morning. I slept really well that day. It’s amazing how things just come together sometimes. The drummer and I started writing the drum parts six days before performance night, and we finished them just an hour before show time. I don’t really know what I did musically, but I enjoyed doing it and want to keep doing it forever.

In my research I learned about a group called the White Rose. They were a group of students in Germany from 1942-1944 who wrote leaflets condemning Hitler, the Nazis, and the complacency of Germans in the face of the atrocities being carried out by their military. They wrote of trains full of people being carried away to their deaths and called for Germans to resist such injustice. They snuck around the city at night and painted “Freedom” with tar on the walls. Upon capture by the Nazis, those who wrote and distributed the pamphlets were beheaded.

I take inspiration from the fact that, where oppression is, so there resistance will be. The human spirit is not accustomed to submission. Even in the most horrific of circumstances, even against the worst of odds, even in the shadow of the most severe of consequences, people fight back. The members of the White Rose knew what their punishment would be if they were caught, and yet they did it anyway. The same goes for the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto. That is the victory. That is why the Nazis and those like them will always lose. It is not so much the particulars of resistance, but rather that there was resistance. I remember thinking that as I walked where the Krakow Jewish ghetto used to be. Within those walls there was resistance. The same is true for the Warsaw ghetto, for Auschwitz, for Birkenau, for every instance of oppression, slavery, and genocide throughout human history. There was resistance. That is what inspired The Rising.

-Joshua Hershfield