Prepare to be uplifted by a trio of Wilton High School students, who took lemons and turned them into lemon meringue pie, with the help of about 50 very musically talented fellow students and teachers, and now the entire community gets to enjoy a slice. They recorded a beautiful virtual chorale/orchestral version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” and now the amazing video is available on YouTube.
Rising senior Jake Arnowitz (below right), and recent graduates Jack Parotta (left) and Jimmy Curto (middle, onscreen) are the three talents behind the video, an idea that originated in March at the beginning of the quarantine when WHS teacher Kevin Slater approached Arnowitz with the idea of creating a music video.
“He knows I do a lot of video production at the school and I also do a lot of music at school. When he came to me with that idea, I was hooked immediately. Since then, we’ve been working every day on this,” Arnowitz recalled.
Song choice was everything.
“We wanted to have a song that people would connect with, that would make people feel better. Jack was the one that suggested that song and we quickly realized how well that song worked for so many reasons–not only just with the coronavirus and everything, but also we made the Black Lives Matter connection about a month and a half ago,” Arnowitz explained. “[We were] just trying to bring happiness to everyone right now because everything’s all over the place and nobody really knows what’s going on. We were just trying to make everyone happy right now.”
They loved the original version of the medley originally performed Israel Kamakawiwoʻole and credited to songwriters Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Bob Thiele, and George David Weiss. But with a goal to involve as many people as possible, they needed to write a new arrangement. Arnowitz arranged the piece for a giant, 50-plus piece orchestra with a full orchestral woodwind section, a jazz big band, and a full string section; Curto and Parotta put together the choir arrangement to include another 20 or so singers.
“That was about a month and a half of work, just that,” Arnowitz said.
Once the arrangement was finalized, they reached out to the musicians and singers in April, and each performer recorded his or her part by the end of May–about 50 performers altogether who recorded about 55 different parts.
With the quarantine, the type of ensemble performance videos have been plentiful online–but what isn’t obvious is just how much work it takes to put it together. Once the recordings came back, around the first week of June, Arnowitz started the mammoth task of editing the video. That took about a month, and then he’s spent the last couple weeks polishing it.
“I did the audio mixing of it with the help of Mr. [Eric] Mendelsohn, who’s the recording studio advisor here at the high school. Really the hardest part was doing the music editing part. It ended up being over 100 different audio tracks in my software–different instruments, different effects, and everyone’s recording from a different place. I had to line everything up, make sure everything was in sync, that in itself took probably three weeks. Then you’ve got to adjust all the levels, all the dynamics, make sure everything’s in tune. Once you’ve got it all balanced out and make sure it sounds good, then you move into the even more complicated part, the video edit,” Arnowitz explains.
For the most part, Arnowitz worked at home with the help of some production software from school to supplement what he already had.
As for performers, they recruited WHS students from as far back as 2018, through members of the class of 2023, as well as several teachers. One of the teachers, Chris Johnson, fits both bills as an alumnus from the WHS Class of 2003 and as a music teacher at Miller-Driscoll Elementary.
They published the video just yesterday, and have been holding their breath for the response, to see if it has had the intended effect.
“We wanted something that took everybody out of their isolation. We were so blessed with this opportunity to create this fantastic project and we wanted everybody to feel connected and lift them out of whatever somber feelings they had of isolation or depression or anything they were feeling. We wanted something that really allowed people to connect,” Parotta said. “I was so happy to climb on board and thankful Jake approached me with it.”
He continued: “We just wanted something that provided some people with happiness and some light into what was going on. Everything that has transpired since whenever we shut down–March 11, whenever that was–this message that we’re trying to deliver here applies more and more every day. And we’re just thankful it’s being received.”
Their peers who took part were just as eager to be part of whatever impact the video will have, to show the power of what the arts can do. Parotta was thrilled with the force they unleashed.
“All projects had been shut down, all productions and shows and choir concerts and everything. And this united all the forces of the arts here at Wilton. We had all the band kids, the orchestra kids, the music producers like Jake and Jimmy, we had all the choir kids. I asked theater and musical theater actors and actresses. Everybody just wanted to share the same message we were trying to promote and they were happy to get behind it. And I was so proud and so thankful to all of them because they absolutely knocked it out of the park.”
The project’s message and impact is uplifting now, but it’s also got the power to continue to inspire for a long time afterward. In addition to releasing the video on YouTube, they will evenutally make the video available on other music sharing platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify.
It’s a message they hope incoming classes at the high school will hear on multiple levels.
“The big thing here is connectivity and communication. You can always reach out. You can always turn to a friend, even if you’re feeling isolated, feeling down in whatever situation. There are so many things that are going to happen in high school that they can’t even comprehend yet, and music is one of the best things to turn to and create a space for opportunity,” Parotta said. “I’ve been so inspired by the people here at Wilton. Collaboration is huge in high school and that’s really what people look for later on in life. Everybody involved in this project did a great job at that. I want underclassmen to be inspired to go out and really create and follow your passion. This is something we love to do. We’re so thankful that it makes other people happy, but finding a message and finding the light in what you produce is one of the most important things in the world, especially right now. Follow your heart and it’s going to guide you in the right direction.”
Produced by: Jake Arnowitz (WHS ’21), Jack Parrotta (WHS ’20), and Jimmy Curto (WHS ’20)
Flute 1: Lara Burke (WHS ’20)
Flute 2: Isabelle Braten (WHS ’21)
Clarinet: Christian Harris (WHS ’20)
Alto Sax 1: Sean Carlson (WHS ’19)
Alto Sax 2: Kyle Saxon (WHS ’18)
Tenor Sax 1: Harris Patnaik (WHS ’20)
Tenor Sax 2: Simon Alexander (WHS ’21)
Baritone Sax: Jake Arnowitz (WHS ’21)
Trumpet 1: Mr. Nick Loafman (WHS Band)
Trumpet 2: Moses Trujilo (WHS ’20)
Trumpet 3: Isadore Palacpac (WHS ’21)
Trumpet 4: Jack Nanez (WHS ’20)
Trombone 1: Ian Kineon (WHS ’21)
Trombone 2: Alex Jelilian (WHS ’21)
Trombone 3: Michael Soojian (WHS ’22)
Bass Trombone: Jimmy Curto (WHS ’20)
Tuba: Jimmy Curto (WHS ’20)
Acoustic Guitar: Ben Kesselman (WHS ’21)
Electric Guitar 1: Jake Arnowitz (WHS ’21)
Electric Guitar 2: Mr. Jim Sheridan (WHS)
Ukuleles: Michael Biondo (WHS ‘21), Liv Benjamin (WHS ’19), Rachel Slater (WHS ‘21)
Piano: Isadore Palacpac (WHS ’21)
Bass Guitar: Mr. Eric Mendelson (WHS)
Drumset: Mr. Chris Johnson (WHS ‘03), Mattias Onnerud (WHS ’21), Jack Kelly (WHS ‘22)
Marching Snare Drum: Mr. Troy Williams (MB/WHS Band)
Violin I: Emma Famous (WHS ’20)
Violin II: Erin Famous (WHS ‘23)
Viola: Jimmy Curto (WHS ’20), Jeeshan Huq (WHS ‘21)
Cello: Johnny Shiller (WHS ’20)
Upright Bass: Mr. Malcolm Karlan (WHS Orchestra), Erin Famous (WHS ‘23)
Soprano: Ella DeLuca (WHS ’23), Chloe Hodnett (WHS ‘21), Lily Mikita (WHS ’21), Tess Nobles (WHS ‘20), Eleanor Winrow (WHS ’20)
Alto: Sarah Bates (WHS ‘21), Katie Buse (WHS ’20), Anna Clark (WHS ‘20), Lauren Parrotta (WHS ’22), Zara Wiest (WHS ‘ 20)
Tenor: Michael Biondo (WHS ’21), Edwin Gregory (WHS ‘22), Jubair Huq (WHS ’20), Jack Parrotta (WHS ‘20)
Bass: Brycen Addison (WHS ’21), Ryan Lynn (WHS ‘21), Evan Timnev (WHS ’20)
Instrumental Arrangements: Jake Arnowitz
Choral Arrangements: Jimmy Curto
Mixing: Jake Arnowitz
Mastering: Mr. Eric Mendelson
Video Editing: Jake Arnowitz
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Wilton Board of Education
Wilton Public Schools Central Office
Wilton High School Administration