Extraordinary composing accomplishments in a pandemic

A recent graduate of Boston Conservatory at Berkeley organized and produced the video “What the World Needs Now” and many other extraordinary projects in the midst of the pandemic.

to close out day one we welcome shelby rassler to our virtual stage shelby is a composer arranger and multi-inter instrumentalist she's a 22 year old graduate with a bachelor of music in composition at the boston conservatory at berkeley college of music it doesn't get any better than that in the world of music she's currently pursuing a masters in music composition at the juilliard school in new york her compositions have been played by various orchestras choruses chamber ensembles throughout the country and she has music directed several concerts and musicals and in addition to her extraordinary compositional skills she is a really really talented musician primary instruments are alto sax and drums though she plays many others including piano guitar bass clarinet trumpet trombone and others please welcome shelby rassler hello everyone my name is shelby rassler i'm a 22 year old musician from south florida
and today i'm here to tell you the story of how one seemingly devastating email changed my entire life but to do so i've got to give you a little bit of backstory first growing up in a musical family i was exposed to the arts at a very young age and fell in love immediately i started playing the drum set when i was about seven years old and have learned to play pretty much every instrument i can get my hands on ever since i was the president of my middle school band program the drum major of my high school band program and i attended the boston conservatory at berkeley college of music for a degree in music composition i spent my four years in college composing conducting music directing and performing at every single chance i could get our community in boston was strong and it was beautiful and i feel so fortunate to have had such an incredible undergraduate experience all leading up to the most exciting events like our senior recitals and our showcases
and of course graduation however as we all know now the spring of 2020 was when the absolutely tragically devastating coronavirus pandemic took off claiming the lives of an unimaginable amount of people on march 11th two days after my 22nd birthday and a month before my senior recital the student body received an email saying that the remainder of the school year would be held online while this was undoubtedly the most correct and safe decision at the time we were all just devastated looking back several months later it's clear that we couldn't have possibly imagined the severity of the situation at hand and you know now it's 2021 and we've tragically lost over two million people around the world but at the time all i could selfishly think about was my cancelled senior recital that i had been working towards for four years i cancelled graduation my canceled trip
to france for the cannes international film festival my cancelled summer music directing job that i wait every single school year to get to and everything else that was seemingly gone in an instance but there was absolutely nothing that we could do to change what was happening and three days later i was on a plane back to fort lauderdale after packing up my entire life in boston and saying goodbye to all of the friends that turned into family during the preceding four years i cried and i cried and i cried some more and eventually something just clicked in my brain there was absolutely no way that i was going to let this be the end of our story so like all productive 22 year old young girls wanting to brainstorm i decided that the best thing for me to do was to take a nap and let me tell you it was most definitely the best thing that i could have ever done in that moment because when i woke up about 20 minutes
later i turned to my friend cammy who i was flying home with and i said i think i might have an idea ten days later that little idea premiered on good morning america and by the end of the week it had an entire segment on the today show but we'll get to that later the idea itself was really simple i just wanted to find a way to continue collaborating with my friends and colleagues and being as we were no longer all living in the same city it seemed the only thing we could do was collaborate remotely using various forms of technology i thought that the phrase virtual orchestra had somewhat of a ring to it and i decided on bert bacharach and hal david's exquisite tune what the world needs now is love i remembered back to seth rudetsky and james wesley's video of this song in honor and memory of the victims of the horrendous 2016 pulse nightclub shooting
when i watched their video five years ago i felt a sense of comfort and hope something that was just non-existent at the time i was inspired and looked up to these two brave men for creating such a beautiful and meaningful initiative in a time of such darkness and despair a few years later i had the exciting opportunity to watch seth in a local concert hall and even said a brief hello at the meet and greet after the show i didn't get the chance to thank him for creating the original what the world needs now video but well spoiler alert four years later we now work together on a weekly basis after he watched my video inspired by his the world needed some love back in 2016 and i felt like it needed some love back in march as well so i made a simple facebook post asking if anyone would want to record themselves playing singing or dancing to an arrangement i would write of the song there wouldn't be any rehearsals and
instead of conducting a standard orchestra which i often did back in boston i found myself shifting and adapting to the technological world on the fly with of course the help of some youtube tutorials and the help of my wonderful friend mix engineer and co-producer dan santiago and about a week later we had a video of 75 musicians from all around the world coming together to share some love there are corn fields enough to grow lord if you want to know
[Music] [Music] everyone [Music] [Music] [Applause] [Music] the video spread pretty quickly and before i knew it i was getting dozens of interview requests every single day by
various television networks news stations magazines and newspapers and from that moment on my life has truly never been the same somehow a 24-hour news cycle lasted months and led to collaborative opportunities with people i would have spent my entire lifetime working towards the minuscule chance of maybe one day working with my amazing mother became my press secretary juggling calls from all over the world leading to interviews in italy and australia sweden and more somehow it even reached the desk of president-elect joe biden who called my cell phone to say thank you for producing the video and yes he did in fact call while i was napping once again so i guess the moral of this whole story is just about the importance of napping in your 20s well i'm not too sure about that but fast forward a couple of months after that instead of walking at my graduation i
received the graduate this award from david pogue live on cbs and my what the world needs now video was part of the cnn 4th of july prime time special where i worked with mr bacharach himself on an edited rendition of my original video where he sang along to my own arrangement i literally could not believe my eyes it was all just such a dream come true this experience has taught me so many different things but most importantly i quickly learned that while media attention is fun and exciting while it lasts my purpose in life is definitely to facilitate and create art that has the power to convey meaningful messages and themes and while doing so the potential to help others along the way making an impact emotionally physically financially socially or otherwise once the dust began to settle i began thinking about the importance of artists sticking together
and supporting each other during this unprecedented period of time it's incredibly challenging to remain hopeful and optimistic about our futures with so many unknowns not to mention how difficult it is to stay motivated and productive in the arts when the light at the end of the tunnel is just invisible so i've spent the last nine months doing everything i can to lift other spirits maybe even shine a glimmer of hope amid so much darkness one of the first organizations to reach out in regards to working together on a brand new project after my what the world needs now video was this organization called the female quotient a female-owned business advancing equality in the workplace through the power of collaboration they bring visibility to women activate solutions for change and create metrics for accountability as a female identifying person myself i was immediately in awe over this incredible organization
and we work together to produce this video of rachel platten's fight song featuring my inspiring and talented friends and colleagues [Music] is me [Music]
i then began producing music videos for stars in the house with the aforementioned seth james and stars in the house is a daily show featuring broadway performers and renowned professional artists and it serves as a fundraiser for the actors fund since the start of the pandemic the show has raised over 650 thousand dollars for artists in need of financial support right now this also led to working on projects such as this all-star cover of georgia on my mind featuring artists that i would do anything just to see in concert let alone ever work with all as part of a fundraiser for stacey abrams fair fight organization our concert raised over two million dollars in ticket sales alone and seven-year-old me who just sat on her little drum chair for the first time is still in absolute utter [Music]
still disbelief peaceful dreams [Music] keeps georgia [Music]
[Music] prior to this video i wanted to use my newfound platform to lift the voices of those being silenced as we're not only experiencing a global health crisis but we're also reckoning with racial injustice and a severe lack of equity in our nation the black lives matter movement has grown immensely over the last several months following the tragic unspeakable murders of george floyd brianna taylor and countless others and i felt as though the only way that i could contribute would be to create a fundraiser for the naacp and highlight the need for change in our nation so i wrote a song called rebuild and it had lyrics by my wonderful sister brielle and a virtual orchestra of over 300 individuals performed the song as part of this fundraiser [Music]
even [Music] let none more us [Music] i also collaborated with a musician named steve shook on his initiative america the dream arranging and producing a music video of the classic america the beautiful with altered lyrics our vision is to
harness the power of song to connect all americans reminding us of the dreams we share in common starting with this re-envisioning of america the beautiful young and old black and white and brown from schools and prisons to houses of worship everywhere from sea to shining sea we're now sharing the scores to our arrangements with schools all around the nation at absolutely no cost so students can perform the song and spread this imperative message [Music] from is
[Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music] [Applause] is [Music] for the last several years i've worked as a music director for the lovewell institute for the creative arts and we have a set of affirmations to inspire our students my favorite one goes a little something like this i have a kind thought for everyone may we create today in the spirit of cooperation and joy the noticeable lack of kindness and growing hatred in our country is not only seen among adults but unfortunately it is also prevalent in bullying among children and teens so when pbs's band against bullying team reached out after watching my what the
world needs now video i jumped on board immediately i became the musical and technical advisor for this past year's program and had the chance to hear from these students firsthand as they bravely shared their experiences and it was truly beautiful i also recently worked as a music arranger for the united nations 75th anniversary celebration concert focusing on how well we handle pressing challenges from the climate crisis to pandemics inequalities new forms of violence and rapid changes in technology and in our population all extremely relevant to what i've been up to for the past several months as time passed my newfound passion for activism grew and led to collaborations with more of my heroes on videos surrounding the 2020 election and the importance of voting trying with everything in me to use my newfound platform for good i worked with musicians like yo yo ma on a collaboration with pianist laura
downes and an original song by jim mayer of the coral reefer band and a commission by the female quotient's youth vote initiative which was an original song called election day written by yours truly here are a few clips from those three [Music] songs [Music] if bandits break [Music] but we can't let this turn
[Music] what's it gonna take to get [Music] this is our moment this is [Music]
[Applause] is [Applause] join us [Music] is [Music] [Applause] [Music]
while music cannot cure coven 19 it certainly can help touch the hearts of those who are suffering and i feel an immense need to try and make this happen as often as possible i've worked on about two dozen projects since the release of my what the world needs now video in march and all of which have the common goal of spreading positivity and meaningful messages the last several months have solidified how grateful fortunate and privileged i am to have a platform to continually produce art during such a horrible time and that brings us to today it's 2021 at last and i'm currently a masters and composition student at juilliard my dream school from before i knew what school was studying with one of my favorite composers of all time mr john crilliano it's so hard to believe that this has all happened in less than a year and i'm so grateful to be on this journey while these experiences have all been incredible opportunities and my life has
changed in truly every way imaginable it's not lost on me how many millions and millions of people are tragically suffering in so many ways right now i hope to provide even just a tiny spark of inspiration to those who feel nothing but hopeless thank you so much