Last Fall, Ball State University empowered three cabaret students — Frank Zabilka, Gabe Ford-Dunker, and Reagan Pender — to write lyrics for a new anthem, “We Fly.”
“I get chills when I hear the anthem,” said President Geoffrey S. Mearns. “It beautifully captures the mission, aspirations, and values of the Ball State community — our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. I am proud of the students who created and perform this anthem. It moves me, and I’ve seen it move our alumni.”
Since about 20 students in the Department of Theatre and Dance’s senior cabaret class sang it for the first time at the “We Fly” brand launch party in November, the Ball State community has quickly embraced the anthem. The students have sung “We Fly” at their concerts in Indianapolis, Joe’s Pub at the famed Public Theater in New York City, and several University events.
They sang it together one last time at their Commencement ceremony on May 5 (watch video of the performance at bottom of story).
A unifying collaboration
The College of Fine Arts students were thrilled and proud to work on Ball State’s third official song, with the refrain of “With Benny as my guide, I’ll find my way.”
“We’ve never had a song that unites the class with the audience like this before,” said Frank, from Lamont, Illinois. “It has been great to perform it. We love performing together, and this is exactly the kind of thing you hope could come out of these collaborations we have with working professionals.”
“It’s extremely cool to have had a hand in creating something that could become a lasting tradition for the University,” added Gabe, from Fargo, North Dakota. “It’s become our class’ song — we love to sing it together. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”
The seniors’ faculty mentors include Sutton Foster, a two-time Tony Award winner. On the Department of Theatre and Dance faculty since 2010, Foster co-teaches the cabaret class with her longtime musical director Michael Rafter, department chair Bill Jenkins, and Johnna Tavianini, an assistant professor of musical theatre voice.
When Rafter was asked to arrange “We Fly,” he reached out to Frank, Gabe, and Reagan, who all had a knack for rewriting lyrics in their class assignments. They collaborated on customizing the lyrics of the mashup he was working on — combining “Fly” by Nicki Minaj and “Fly, Fly Away” from the musical Catch Me if You Can. The anthem came together in about a week.
“Michael sent us a recording of him playing the arrangement on the piano to work from,” Gabe said. “We started with the actual lyrics of the two songs and started thinking about how we could make it about Ball State. Then we sat down one night and hammered it out.”
For Jenkins, it’s just one example of how Ball State students “Fly” every day.
“Ball State is about empowering students to succeed,” he said, “something our department has always been committed to. It’s so exciting that our students have had this opportunity to share what they love about Ball State and the musical theatre option, and to continue to be great ambassadors for the University. It makes me proud.”