As students everywhere are stuck at home, longing physical connection with their classmates and regular school routines, many are making the most of it to use technology to inspire and connect creatively.
And sometimes the results can be magical.
That’s certainly what happened when Tower Hill School physics teacher Tom Hoch suggested a talented group of students “do something fun and uplifting for our Friday morning assembly,” said senior Claire Dignazio.
Hoch pitched the idea of the group producing a virtual rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and the impromptu band of more than a dozen teens (ranging from freshman to seniors) had only four days to pull it off.
This involved a complex minuet of performers learning the song and their individual lines and some sophisticated producing by seniors Ben duPont, Joe Zakielarz and junior Reece Ratliff to synch vocals, instruments and deliver a polished video. Most are members of the school’s Vocal Ensemble, Band or Jazz Bands.
“I definitely thought it was a very ambitious project. But I loved the idea, and I knew we were super lucky to have are so many talented individuals, whether it’s with singing, or playing an instrument or the video and production side of it,” said Ratliff.
duPont also thought Hoch’s song choice stylistically might be a challenge. “I’m not going to lie. I thought the song choice was great. But I looked at it and said, ‘oh my gosh this is going to be a challenge and a half.”
duPont was referring to the range and professional quality of the choral singers behind lead singer Freddie Mercury. “The chords behind Mercury are really quite beautiful. But that’s a very challenging part because there’s a soprano, alto, tenor and bass division also, which everyone had to learn. It was hard because sometimes we had to jump between parts,” he said.
duPont, Zakielarz and Ratliff also built a plan around assembling the cast. “We were kind of keeping it a secret while we were working on it. So we were really only reaching out one maybe one or two people for each instrument,” said Ratliff, who plays in his own band and hopes to pursue a career in music.
After students received the score, Ratliff studied the music and put on his directorial hat. “I sat down with it for a couple of hours and kind of marked out — what parts I thought would be best for everyone and just trying to make sure everyone was in the right voice range,” he said.
Zakielarz said students had to submit their videos by Wednesday night, with some sending in one video of the entire song while others recorded multiple parts individually. Using a program called Divinci Resolve, he was able to upload all 30 videos and get to work stacking them.
“We actually separated the audio from the video… I was stuck inside all day on Thursday trying to pull this off. It took about 10 hours of video editing,” said Zakielarz. “I’m no video genius, so it took a while to figure that out.”
The audio came a bit easier, as Zakielarz and duPont have experience working together making electronic dance music. Still, duPont poured about six hours into cleaning up the audio and removing background noise. “It was all just time consuming — finding a way to compensate for the low quality of iPhone microphones,” he laughed.
“It was such a cool experience, and hearing the end result for the first time completely shocked me,” said Dignazio.
“All of the feedback we’ve gotten is that it seems like a ray of hope during this quarantine,” said Zakielarz.
In addition to the three lead organizers and Dignazio, star Hiller performers included Katie Sullivan, Sarah Gano, Ally Valentine, Olivia Langlois, Lina Zhu, Jade Harnish, Rachael Morrison, Billy Nunn, Miguel Soeres, Charles Habgood, Keally Rohrbacher, Will Zong and John Koenig. Bravo!
Zakielarz, duPont and Ratliff are blown away that the video has already generated 6,000 views on YouTube. One TSD follower who lives in Georgia, in fact, texted TSD about the video, having seen a friend sharing it who lives out in California. That’s the nature of a hot video that goes viral – especially in the throes of a quarantine.
“I know this is a tough time for everyone just in general because we can’t see loved ones and friends. But I really hope this brought at least a little bit of joy to people. I know our school community is pretty jazzed up about it,” said duPont.