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© 2016 by Ravyn Stanfield
We are the rising sun
We are the change
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and
C F C G
We are dawning, we are the…
The third line of this song is quoted from June Jordan: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Anti-war march, San Francisco 2003. Photo by Luke Hauser/DirectAction.org
History & Lore
This song was written in my living room in Albuquerque, New Mexico in January 2003, just before the US declared war on Iraq and invaded the country based on misinformed beliefs that the Iraqi government had “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.
This song was first sung in the streets of Albuquerque, marching down Central Ave to protest the declaration of war on Iraq. It has been sung all over the world for rituals, protests, meetings, festivals, concerts and other events. A friend even called me from Zuccati park during Occupy New York in 2011 and said “Thousands of people are singing your song in the streets!”
This recorded version is different that what I wrote originally, other people have changed the tune. It’s a true folk song.
I believe that humans singing in the face of adversity and oppression is one of the most revolutionary things we can do. I am inspired by All Those Who Have Sung in the streets, in the churches, in the fields, on the railroad, in the hospitals, in the schools, in the factories, in the rituals, in the forest, in the births and deaths of those we love. Singing heals us and gives us resilience. That is why I keep writing chants.
Sometimes we face terrible loss and a long, painful night of the soul. We have no idea what happens next. It all seems to be going downhill and there is nothing we can do to stop it. But the sun will always rise. And after entropy and death, comes dawn and regeneration. This is true. This is my religion. We are meant to sing ourselves back to life.
Rising Sun must have made its debut at CA Witchcamp in Summer 2003. It became an instant classic, sung repeatedly through the week and ever since.
When I first heard the song, it sounded like a seamless loop. I couldn’t figure out where the start of the verse was, or where to jump in. Once I learned it, I was surprised how few words there were.
As we compiled this album, we noticed how many of our songs feature the words “We are” in prominent spots. This song helps run up the tally!
Someone once said about Rising Sun: “This should be the first song in a new folk songbook – the way This Land Is Your Land was when I was a kid.”
I was talking with another songwriter who wondered why a particularly heartfelt song of theirs had not become a “pagan anthem.” Obviously there’s no formula for an anthem. But Rising Sun seems to boil it down to its essentials. Take four concise, uplifting, poetic slogans – weave them into a simple, major-key melody that recalls older spiritual songs – travel around and teach it to a bunch of energetic people who can’t wait to share it with others – and voilá – instant anthem!
The Clarinet Orchestra
Our clarinet orchestra was performed by dress, longtime stalwart of the Bay Area’s Brass Liberation Orchestra and featured soloist at many a witchcamp fire circle. When you’re straining the memory cells to recall the umpteenth verse of American Pie, it really helps to be able to say “take it, dress!” and catch your breath.
On the same night we taped the long, melancholy clarinet break on Cycles of the Moon (Song 15), we recorded the sparkling fragments featured on Rising Sun. The inspiration for the cascading fanfares was Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli.
Kids & The Dawning Song
Of all songs on this album, We Are the Rising Sun might be the kids’ favorite. There are kids’ voices in our mix, and we’ll include a kids’ version on the Bonus disk.
Sometime in the mid-2000s, Rising Sun became the closing spiral song at Witchlets in the Woods. When Redwood Magic Family Camp started in 2013, it adopted the song. Perhaps it will become the standard at all family camps.
The intensity of the final spiral at any camp or retreat anchors the song deep in our hearts. As adults, it’s bittersweet to know we are parting for at least a year, maybe much longer.
For little kids, this future-parting isn’t so real. What is real is the jubilation and ecstatic power of dozens of people singing and dancing to this song.
No surprise it’s a huge favorite with the kids, including some who can barely speak.
Here are two stories:
A parent told me her young kid asked, What does “dawning” mean? The mother explained, It’s like starting.
So the kid thought it was fun to sing the final line as We are starting…
But then they reflected (this was a very young kid): If I sing it that way, will people know what song I’m singing?
The mother agreed this might be a problem, and the kid decided it was better to sing “dawning.”
Speaking of dawning:
At Redwood Magic 2015, a camper who was under three years old signed up to sing the song in the talent show. This was a kid who didn’t really speak in full sentences yet. But she loved this song.
Paul played conga, I strummed the guitar, and with her mother onstage with her, the kid led the camp in a vibrant version of what she called The Dawning Song.
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Witchlets in the Woods and Redwood Magic are all-ages family camps, where adults, teens, and kids have their own magical paths. Teens tend to form a sub-community within the main camp. Visit witchlets.org and redwoodmagic.org. Photo by Alla Irwin.