The Rhode Island College Concert Chorus’ virtual performance of “When I Think of You,” composed by Lara Farnell with text by Sara Teasdale, is in consideration for two Grammy Awards from the Recording Academy.
The student-performed and produced piece netted them two nods on the Grammy ballot – Best Pop Duo or Group Performance and Best Music Video.
A total of 32 RIC students recorded the song remotely in April and sent their videos to chorus conductor and professor of music Dr. Teresa Coffman, who passed them along to student Jack Zornado, last year’s Concert Chorus vice president, to mix and engineer the piece.
As the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on any live, in-person musical performances, Coffman decided to provide the RIC community with a virtual performance she hoped would ease the strain of life under quarantine. To that end, she chose “When I Think of You,” a song the group performed in person during the fall semester, due to its theme and lyrics, which seemed to speak directly to the feelings of loneliness and isolation universally experienced since the pandemic began.
“Nothing beats live music making,” Coffman said. “But this video came together when we needed to feel together. It became our theme during these uncertain, disconnected times.”
Zornado stated he had spent approximately 30 hours between video and audio editing, volleying the video back and forth with Coffman, who provided direction on synchronization of the students’ voices.
This was the first time the RIC Concert Chorus had ever created and produced a virtual video, and Zornado, of Providence, explained that he persevered despite a sometimes steep learning curve.
“There was a lot of research,” he said, “and looking at YouTube and educational resources on how to do a lot of things I hadn’t done before.” Zornado explained he is a bit of a “yes man” when it comes to digital projects, eager to step up and take on new challenges.
The piece premiered online May 1.
“What I was hoping for was that 20 people would watch it and say it was really good,” he said, acknowledging that no one working on this song ever sought, or even considered, the possibility of being submitted for consideration for any award.
Zornado, in his capacity as one of the video’s digital producers, was notified of the Grammy nominations ahead of time in order to prepare the piece for consideration.
And for the choristers, feelings of shock and speechlessness pervaded once they learned the news.
The group had been gathered at RIC’s Sapinsley Hall on Oct. 2 under the pretext of receiving care packages from Coffman and for a potential socially distanced choir practice of the school’s Alma Mater. It was the first time they had seen one another since the school closed to in-person learning in March.
“I was confused, and we were in our seats,” said Christian Black, a sophomore piano performance major. “And then I heard and saw on the screen our virtual choir performance, and I just started crying because I didn’t expect it at all.”
Black explained that after the video ended, administration, along with Coffman and Zornado, shared with choristers that the video had been submitted to the Recording Academy for consideration and had been placed on the official Grammy ballot.
Cranston’s Melendy Johnson, a nontraditional student who recently returned to RIC to complete a music degree she began 20 years ago, said: “We all kind of looked at each other like, ‘Is this real? Are we really here?’”
“Under my mask, my mouth was hanging open,” said Samantha Schleifer, a musical theatre major from Cranston.
Since consideration for the ballot was announced, the group has been featured in various news outlets, and the video has amassed more than 10,000 YouTube views.
As many musical heavy hitters are being considered for these prestigious awards, including some very well-known artists, the group maintains both a cautious optimism and a great, yet humble, pride in their accomplishment.
“Of all the years the Grammys have occurred,” Johnson said, “it would be really fitting if we did make it to the five [finalists]. In a time when the world just stopped, we were able to come through our own depression, our own grief, our own anxieties, to record ourselves singularly, then come together to make this piece that all who have listened to so far have needed to hear.”
She added: “And if it touched them in any way to ease their depression or their anxiety, or help them feel better about their day, that’s what music is about. It’s about touching people, finding them where they are, and helping them through. And it would be a fitting year for us to be able to touch a few more lives.”
Schleifer, summing up the feelings of the other members of her tight-knit chorus, added: “It feels amazing.”
“It’s definitely just an honor to be considered,” said Johnston’s Emily Gaye, current president of the Concert Chorus and alto section leader. “And that in and of itself is super incredible. Right now, it feels like we’re the underdogs in a way. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to win.”
Schleifer added, “I think that we’re all talented enough, and the video is definitely edited so well that it could be considered for the tech alone.”
Most of the students noted that their families were in two camps when it came to learning their loved ones were being considered by the Recording Academy – they either expressed shock to the point of disbelief, or jokingly stated they “knew this would happen all along.” In both cases, families appear to be enthusiastic cheerleaders for their student singers.
The Recording Academy will announce the nominees for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards on Nov. 24 via a press release and social media. If the group advances to the top five, they will wait to learn their fate when the Grammy Awards airs on CBS on Jan. 31, 2021.
The choristers stated they are focusing on their academics for the remainder of the semester but are looking eagerly towards Nov. 24. The group stays in touch through their classes and in a group chat, and explained they really miss spending time with one another.
“It’s a really pure, wonderful group of people. It’s so much like a family,” Black explained.
Coffman, who plans another virtual performance this academic year, candidly shared her pride about and support for her choristers.
“They are talented and hardworking, and they sing exquisitely beautiful live performances. They are the best. That the choristers were willing to record themselves individually in their homes to try to feel their connection to each other speaks volumes,” she said.
Coffman then concluded, “Those who sing together are forever connected.”
And they’ve been given a platform in this trying time to help connect the rest of the world.
View the RIC Concert Chorus’ YouTube video at youtube.com/watch?v=za-8nD21GaU.