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Stephanie Porter holds the music for “So We Can Be Free,” the song she wrote for her students and that the Auburn University Marching Band will perform during its Nov. 12 halftime show.

Music woman: Hartselle teacher’s composition selected for Auburn halftime show

Stephanie Porter sings “So We Can Be Free“ with a few of her former F.E. Burleson students, from left, Cailyn Bain, Katie Claire Hyde, Lincoln Gordon and Cheyenne Burress. The song debuted last year at the school’s Veterans Day program.

By Catherine Godbey

For the Enquirer

For years Stephanie Porter mulled over the right words to memorialize and honor veterans who served the country. Last year, the song, “So We Can Be Free,” debuted at F.E. Burleson Elementary School’s Veterans Day program.

This year, the song will be performed in front of tens of thousands of fans at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“It’s a little bit surreal to think a crowd of that size will be hearing a song that I wrote,” said Porter, who is in her 21st year of education and her eighth year of teaching music at Hartselle’s F.E. Burleson.

The 380-member Auburn University Marching Band, under the direction of Corey Spurlin, marching band director and associate director of bands at Auburn, will feature “So We Can Be Free” during the Veterans Day-themed halftime show on Nov. 12.

Singing Porter’s lyrics will be the Lee County All-Star Elementary Choir composed of elementary school students.

Porter dedicated the song in memory and honor of relatives and a close friend who served in the military.

“I’d been thinking about a song for Veterans Day for several years. We had gone through a lot of the patriotic music out there, and I wanted to do something special and something different,” Porter said. “I wanted the song to not only thank the veterans who enlisted, I wanted the song also to recognize the veterans who were forced into the service through the draft.”

During the halftime show, the Lee County All-Star Elementary Choir will sing these lyrics to the abridged song, “It all started with a call, a call to serve our country. We children sing to you today and we thank you for your service so we can be free. We pray for peace. We wish you hope. We may never really understand what you’ve done. With all our hearts, we wish you love and we thank you for being brave so we can be free.”

To write the song, Porter sifted through a file on her phone containing an ongoing list of possible lyrics. After penning the words, which took 2 1/2 months, she composed the melody and handed the song off to her husband, Shane Porter, who created the backing track.

“My husband is the one who made it sound really good. He added bagpipes and all that stuff,” Porter said.

A professional musician, Shane Porter has written music for jazz, concert and marching bands and performed with Wycliffe Gordon, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, The Temptations and Four Tops.

Ever since the couple married in 2015, Shane Porter has encouraged his wife to create and compose music.

“I’ve been a professional musician, composer and arranger for nearly 35 years. When we first met, Stephanie was highly intimidated by my career and therefore would hardly ever share anything with me. I always told her, ‘Just go for it, that’s the only way you’ll learn.’ When she came with this song, I thought, ‘Finally, she did it,’” Shane Porter said.

Perfecting the sound

For the background track, Shane Porter added a variety of instruments, including bagpipes.

“Bagpipes have a long history of military tradition and ceremony in the United States. Associated originally with the Scotland pipes marching with troops to war, the U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard use them more ceremoniously,” he said. “The rest of the instruments were chosen to provide as much of a majestic sound as possible to use music to say, ‘Thank you,’ to all who serve or served.”

Earlier this year, when Shane Porter heard his college friend, Spurlin, mention Auburn’s Veterans Day show, he sent him an email of a recording of “So We Can Be Free.”

“I knew Stephanie’s lyrics, melody and children’s voices, and the accompaniment music and a truly heartfelt dedication to our veterans checked all of the boxes for closing a powerful Veterans Day program,” Shane Porter said.

Stephanie Porter dedicated the song in memory of her grandfather, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry Stephens Smith; her husband’s grandfather, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eugene Cole’ her husband’s uncle who died in the Vietnam War, Marine Corps Pfc. Richard Lee Porter; and her husband’s father, Marine Corps Pfc. Charles David Porter; and in honor of family friend Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Thomas Furlough.

The song, Porter said, spurred a conversation among her students who performed the piece last year.

“They didn’t understand what it meant to be drafted and made to serve. That was a big thing for them to understand: that there were boys who were called to serve,” she said.

Musical niche

For Porter, the performance at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which can hold more than 87,000 people, represents the latest chapter in a musical journey that started in middle school.

“I actually started off in band and I was really bad. I was so bad, they have these plastic things to cover the holes in the flute and I never took my plastic things out,” Porter said. “Once I figured how bad I was as an instrumentalist, I joined the choir under Debbie Queen. She was the one who got me into singing.”

At Decatur High, Porter, studied voice under Carl Davis. Davis, along with his wife, Beth Davis, former music teacher at Somerville Road Elementary, guided Porter onto the music education path.

“That’s where my love of teaching music began. They saw it in me before I saw it in myself. I can’t imagine doing anything else. When I’m having a bad day, all I need to do is hear my kids sing and everything gets better,” Porter said.

While studying music education at the University of Alabama, Porter began composing.

“I didn’t think I was any good until I married my husband in 2015 and he started looking up some of my stuff. He has helped me so much,” Porter said.

“So We Can Be Free” represents the latest song created by the husband-and-wife team of Shane and Stephanie Porter.

Stephanie Porter also composed a song for F.E. Burleson Elementary’s 100th anniversary celebration and for the retirement of Carl Davis as Decatur High choir director.

The Porters will attend the Nov. 12 game between Auburn University and Texas A&M University.

“Any time I compose anything, I have an emotional connection to the song, but especially this one because it means so much on a personal level,” Porter said. “The first time I heard my kids sing this song, I was fighting back tears. I can’t imagine what I will feel hearing it performed by the Auburn University Marching Band.”