EastBay Today

Posted March 3, 2017

Alumnus Brings Music for ABC Miniseries “When We Rise” to Life

Robert Litton served as orchestrator for the series

Robert Litton served as the orchestrator for the ABC miniseries "When We Rise."

Cal State East Bay’s 2010 Distinguished Young Alumnus Robert Litton is quickly amassing credits in the music industry. From short films to feature-length movies to video games to original compositions for orchestras across the country, Litton’s hand has touched almost every genre — especially television.

Now working as orchestrator for the fifth and final season of A&E’s critically acclaimed “Bates Motel” (42 episodes thus far, if you’re counting), Litton (B.A. ’01, Music; M.A. ’04, Music) has recently completed another project — the ABC miniseries “When We Rise,” which finished airing Friday.  

Centered in San Francisco, “When We Rise” chronicles the history of the LGBT movement from its start in the 1970s through the passage of gay marriage by the United States Supreme Court in 2015.

“Going into the project, the filmmakers had communicated … that this was kind of going to lead up to the Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of LGBT rights, and that in a way this was culminating in one of the last big fights of the civil rights movement,” Litton explains. “So, by the time we started recording — the last one or two sessions took place after the election — it’s safe to say that a lot of those people realized, ‘Oh, there’s still another fight left.’”

For his part, Litton served as orchestrator on “When We Rise,” which means he took the composer’s demo from a computer program and ensured it was ready to be recorded and synced with the show. “Basically … it’s up to me to flesh it out, sometimes rewrite it and make sure it sounds great when played by a live orchestra,” Litton says.

Although he admits the full impact of “When We Rise” only hit him recently (“You’re so focused on the task at hand … while you’re in it, it’s hard to see the big picture,” he says) Litton’s memories of growing up in the Bay Area — including performing as a percussionist for the San Francisco Youth Orchestra — added something special to the experience.

“Part of the joy of being on this project was sitting there and watching some of the scenes where they had recreated parts of San Francisco and the Bay Area from the 70s or 80s that I knew really well and reminded me of my childhood,” he says. “And, I have many people in my family and life that have gone through personal struggles [surrounding these issues] and to empathize with them, and to imagine what was happening on screen happening to friends or family — it was moving for me.”

Robert Litton was Cal State East Bay’s Distinguished Young Alumnus in 2010, and his work composing the music to accompany the video game The Star Chasers was previously covered by Cal State East Bay news.