The joy of singing and performing music is something that unites people of all races, colors and creeds. There’s a reason why artists are revered around the world. When people differ in every aspect of life, they might share the love of an artist or a certain type of music and use that to bridge the gap.
The Dwight School emphasizes the “spark of genius” in every student and with the help of a music industry veteran; they’ve helped create the spark yet again in some of their students.
Nine Dwight students, ranging in age from 9 to 16 and representing four different countries, collaborated on the lyrics to a song titled “This Is Our Time” with Keith “Wildchild” Middleton (who most know from the show STOMP). Mikkel Eriksen, a two-time Grammy Award-winning record producer and two-time ASCAP songwriter of the year winner, composed the music to the song. The students and musicians created “This Is Our Time” with the goal of creating a school song that everyone can be proud of. From the interviews the AmNews conducted with some of the participants in the program, that goal has been accomplished.
Eriksen, who’s worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Katy Perry, talked about how the program started as an idea and ended with the students recording in Jay-Z’s Roc the Mic Studios.
“I do remember talking to both (Dwight School Chancellor) Stephen (Spahn) and Kirk (Spahn) about the possibility of having a Dwight song and I think the idea just came from that and we started figuring out how to actually bring it to life and how to involve the students,” said Erikson. “So we started collaborating with Keith Middleton.
“The teachers and students came up with words and feelings that described how they felt about the school and everyone started to brainstorm,” continued Eriksen. “What Keith and I did was put all those ideas together and create a song. Obviously we had to create the music and the melody and take all those pieces from the puzzle and create one solid piece of music…and we really succeeded with that.”
Dwight School Song
With words of encouragement backed by a 4/4 drumbeat, strumming acoustic guitar, hip-hop breaks and a catching melody, “This Is Our Time” is immaculately produced and arranged (and can be found with an accompanying video online). The group of students even had a chance to perform the song at Dwight School Foundation Benefit dinner at Cipirani Wall Street. But the lessons started first in the studio.
Sophie Conger, a 17-year-old student who recently began her senior year, talked about how she liked to put on shows for her parents as a kid and got into music through her mother (who studied Opera). She told the AmNews how the experience of collaboration and writing lyrics to music opened her up emotionally.
“I’ve never really seen myself as a singer,” said Conger, a New Jersey native. “I feel like it comes naturally for me, but it’s not something I can see myself doing for a career.” As for the studio experience, Conger called it “incredible.”
“I didn’t realize how hard it was to come up with a song,” continued Conger. “I’m really not a songwriter so it was hard for me to collaborate and share my ideas because it’s very vulnerable to share song ideas. You’re afraid that people are gonna laugh at you and people are going to think what you’re saying is cheesy. There’s that level of worry. But aside from that, it was a great experience to be able to express yourself.
Elise Eriksen, a fifth grader and the daughter of Mikkel, also participated in the creation of “This Is Our Time” and talked about how her love from music started with watching her father play piano. She also talked to the AmNews about working to hit the right note in the studio.
“Sometimes I just want to sing and it doesn’t always work like that. I think it’s important because I think if you rush things; it’s not going to end up very good. So you need to take your time.” Eriksen also told the AmNews that working with other people “was important to the experience.”
And continuing the “spark of genius” motto the Dwight School emphasizes, the youngest student to participate in the song’s creation is also one of the most accomplished in terms of the arts. Fifth-grader Akash Chopra, 10, holds the lead role of Mowgli in the national tour of “The Jungle Book” currently co-produced by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Boston’s Huntington Theater. Chopra’s been able to keep up with his studies via tutors on the road, using Skype to engage with teachers and attending class whenever he has some free time. He spoke to the AmNews about the experience and what it meant to create a school song.
““To work with someone like Mikkel Eriksen was an amazing experience,” said Chopra. “Dwight School itself is such a cooperative community that I think that just working together with these people made this concept such a very good song.” When asked to pick his favorite moment from the experience Chopra said “the first day when we met and we just came together as a group to brainstorm on the song. At first we were all shy, but then we started coming together and by the next practice we were thinking of a melody to go with the song.”
When asked about the key lesson learned from their experience in the studio, both the students and Eriksen discussed “patience.”
“I think the big lesson in this, and in life, is to always work together,” said Chopra.
Eriksen told the AmNews that he had to remind himself a few times that he wasn’t dealing with the typical recording scenario.
“You have to remind yourself that these are kids and they’re new to the process,” said Eriksen. “When we record, we are used to doing 20 or 200 takes for a song and piecing it together. But the kids were so positive and so eager and so enthusiastic. So there was really no problem in motivating them to give the extra effort.”
And judging from the results, the effort seemed to be well worth the wait.