- Written by Richard Gabrintina
- Category: Arts & Entertainment
- Published: 26 April 2018
Monday, June 18, 8 p.m.
How has social media impacted today’s youth? Can tweets reflect modern life? Is it possible to take tweets and turn it into a musical performance? WHRO explores this question in their latest documentary — #YoungSingersProject — and examines the lives of today’s youth through the lens of social media, unraveling the universal and emotional experiences they face.
The Young Singers Project is the flagship educational outreach program of the Virginia Chorale — the premier professional vocal ensemble in Virginia — that serves as a unique opportunity for select high school students throughout the Hampton Roads region to perform with a professional choir. For #YoungSingersProject, WHRO went up-close and behind-the-scenes with the 2017 class of vocalists. From auditions to the final act, WHRO followed their journey in preparing for their performance of “#twitterlieder: 15 tweets in 3 acts.”
Composed by James Eakin III and written by Anthony Silvestri, “#twitterlieder” chronicles life from the perspective of the digital landscape by crafting tunes from tweets. Each song from the cycle stays true to the Twitter format.
Silvestri, initially dared by his friend and composer Eric Whitacre, wrote short prose poems at exactly 140 characters apiece. Tim Seeling, director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, read these poems and loved them so much that he commissioned a song cycle for his group with Eakin. Some singers from the chorus worked at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, so Silvestri was able to stick with the title and aptly added a hashtag to it.
“This work is a song cycle of fifteen tweets about the cycle of a person's life, in three acts (roughly Youth, Adulthood, Old Age), with each act ending in a sort-of Greek chorus commenting on that phase of life,” Silvestri explained.
Under the direction of Guest Conductor Dr. Bryson Mortensen, the teenage lives of the individual performers tie together to the themes of “#twitterlieder” in #YoungSingersProject.
“What was so amazing to me is how much meaning [Silvestri] could get in each one of those little tweets. I hope it gets you to think a little differently about the world around you,” Mortensen said about “#twitterlieder.”
The young talent might not necessarily relate to every composition from the song cycle, especially those that relate to old age like “Fiber,” but the documentary holds a sense of universality that can be easily enjoyed by anyone.
“It’s about having a sense of humor when your mind kind of starts to go [and] you’re forgetting stuff,” Eakin explained about the fun tune about aging. “And eating fiber is good for you, you know?”
In between the rehearsals, the documentary looks closely into the lives of students like Natalie Merrell, Brendan O’Keefe, Christian Gador, Dante Copeland, Ginger Johns and others. From being a busy high school senior helping out at household of nine, to battling depression with Buddhism, to balancing life with the help of the brotherhood of friendship, to the exhilaration of a romantic “promposal,” to the intimate relationship between a mother and daughter and to the general teenage experience, these vignettes convey the importance of truly living and not confining oneself behind a digital screen.
“The goal for me was to get them to think more carefully about how they spend their time,” Mortensen said.
“It wasn’t written for high school kids, so it was interesting to see how they approached the middle aged and older aged sections of the piece,” said Scott Crissman, one of the mentors of the Virginia Chorale. “They really haven’t had a lot of adult experiences yet, but they think it made them sort of think about what that would be like.”
Following up from the success of Comedy Bootcamp: The Documentary, the WHRO crew ended up with around 150-200 hours of footage that was put into making their new, hour-long documentary. The crew size varied depending on the shoot, but 15 people worked on the project in total. Director and Producer Kenny Hopkins believes that this documentary is an important story to tell.
“[Although] executed in a somewhat unusual fashion, ‘#twitterlieder’ is a beautiful story of one’s life that we can all identify with,” explained Hopkins. “Conductor Dr. Bryson Mortensen stressed that in participating in this project, he hoped the students would reflect on how they spent their time, especially in an age when things are relegated to such brief moments that are quickly washed over.
Through this documentary, the talented high school singers are given a valuable platform to showcase their voices.
“They offer valuable insight into the world around them, but we are also providing them a snapshot of these special experiences that will live on forever through this film,” said Hopkins.
While the documentary focuses on high school students, Hopkins comments that #YoungSingersProject is also a story that can be enjoyed by everyone of all ages.
“By combining an art form like traditional choir music with playful lyrics that can be related to by anyone immersed in the digital age of social media, #YoungSingersProject is a perfect blend of everything people from multiple generations can enjoy,” Hopkins explained. “Our hope is that entire families can watch this film together while bringing their own interpretations to the individual pieces.”
The project was made possible through a grant from David & Susan Goode that enables WHRO to broadcast various performing arts initiatives in Hampton Roads. #YoungSingersProject will air on Monday, June 18 at 8 p.m. on WHRO TV-15.
Watch a preview: