Artist of the Week: Amy Oakeson


By Abigail Raasch, Arts Writer

Music is one of those certain things sure to touch individuals at the most unexpected of times. Many musicians face the ups and downs of being artists, but seldom do you hear them regret their choice to pursue their passion. Amy Oakeson, a teacher for the University of Utah Musical Theater Program and the theater education program, can be counted among these content and inspiring artists.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Oakeson took the time to explain one of her current passion projects and shared the inspiring stories surrounding it. Oakeson and Suzy Oliveira founded the Rise Up Children’s Choir in March of 2019. Soon after, the work began.

“We had auditions in May, and then made three music videos over the summer,” Oakeson said.

The Rise Up Children’s Choir is composed of a junior and a senior choir, both of which attend numerous rehearsals and performances all while singing uplifting and inspirational music. Ages of the choir members range from 6 to 18, and they are of all different ethnicities, genders and backgrounds. The leaders of the group are Oakeson, Oliveira, Scott Shattuck, Ryceejo Shattuck and Katie Houts. These adults are responsible for this amazing opportunity for these young people here in the Salt Lake region.

The mission statement for Rise Up is to “inspire young performers to uplift, entertain, and transform our world through music — one performance, one view, and one share at a time.” Rise Up is providing even more opportunities for young performers, and not just performing for the sake of performing, but with a greater purpose. They are uplifting and inspiring those who watch them. Oakeson knew there was a need for a program like this one here in the community, and she wanted to take the initiative to be the one to set it up. Through her passion for music, Oakeson herself embodied the traits Rise Up wants to pass on to the younger generation to inspire people with their art. 

In regards to the repertoire chosen for the choir, Oakeson said, “Our music is extremely contemporary.” While still holding true to its morals and wanting to deliver a clear and wholesome message, Rise Up has continued to perform new works with varying degrees of success. It has managed to achieve internet stardom through their YouTube channel, resulting in heightened interest in their organization and performances.  The music it chooses, in turn, has an aim to reach the online audience. Oakeson said, “We knew we wanted to speak not just to an American audience, but to a global audience.” This was what led Rise Up to put together the new song “Speechless” from Disney’s live remake of the classic “Aladdin.”

This was not a simple performance, though. While speaking to a global audience, Rise Up wanted to make sure it was accurately portraying the culture the movie represents. There were numerous challenges faced in the costuming phase and the group felt sensitive regarding the subject. As any good artists do, they did their research and decided to costume the choir in current Middle Eastern fashions. They remained respectful in following the customs, dressing the girls in dresses which were longer and in loose head scarves. This was a risky move for the choir to make, but ultimately, it paid off. The video is nearing 7 million views on YouTube, but more importantly, there was an overwhelming response from the Middle East. Oakeson said, “We had an explosion of positive reactions from the Middle East … they told us ‘thank you for respecting our traditions.’” It was a triumph and a beautiful example of respect between cultures.

Oakeson shared how Rise Up has not only given the children in the choir a chance to sing out, but “it also has given voice to the voiceless.” Many of the comments on the “Speechless” video relate back to how the portrayal of the song makes viewers think about the conditions in which many Middle East children grow up in. While the original song itself is a moment of power for Naomi Scott, who plays Princess Jasmine, this power is transformed by Rise Up into something more intense — strength. 

The organization has certainly made its mark in its short existence, leaving a certain light of curiosity for viewers about what is to come next.

“These kids really are making a difference,” Oakeson said. “We wanted to touch the hearts and minds of people in many ways.” It’s safe to say they’ve accomplished exactly that. 

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