Separated by coronavirus pandemic, students from Navy base in Italy go online to sing moving rendition of Bon Iver song
By JENNIFER SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2020
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Within days, an online assignment recorded by students at Sigonella Middle High School during the countrywide lockdown in Italy has resonated well beyond their small circle.
The choir students’ a capella performance of “Heavenly Father” by the indie folk band Bon Iver struck a strong emotional chord, particularly because the students are in Italy, where hundreds are dying daily from severe lung disease caused by the coronavirus.
Antone Leustek, the music teacher for seventh through 12th grade at the Department of Defense Education Activity school, edited and posted a video compilation of the students’ individual recordings to the school’s Facebook page over the weekend.
“The days keep us apart, but music brings us together,” he captioned the video. “Stay strong Italy. Stay strong.”
The video has reached more than 187,000 people and garnered nearly 2,000 comments from around the world, Leustek said.
“Love love love this, too, all the way from Seattle,” one woman commented. “My granddaughter is one of these beautiful children. Sharing your gifts of music & hope in a time of uncertainty is so appreciated.”
The students recorded the song for an assignment that aimed to get them ready for a concert in May, if school reopens by then, the teacher said.
The 15 students — many of them in middle school — had four days to film themselves and get a good take, Leustek said Monday from his home in Aci Trezza, where he’s been conducting online music classes since the Sigonella school closed more than two weeks ago because of the virus.
Plugging their headphones into an online tool called SmartMusic that fills in the other parts of the song, the students recorded themselves and uploaded their videos.
“Once I had all the files, I was like, ‘Oh, let’s see what it sounds like if I put it together,’” Leustek said.
The song’s message, finding solace in a time of hardship, applies to the situation in Italy, he said.
“After I started putting things together, the way it started sounding, I was like, ‘Wow … it’s one of those coincidental things that seem like fate.’ We didn’t know it was going to be this powerful,” Leustek said.
Freshman Calvin Crumbley, 14, carried the song’s haunting solo.
“I didn’t expect it to be that big, for it to blow up like that,” Crumbley said. “I just want to give credit to my teacher for putting this all together and for my choirmates, for working hard and for us all getting it done.”
Amanda Erno, 18, a junior, said the song “holds hope and brings the community together.”
“I think it really showed everyone in our choir, that even though we’re not together, we can still produce something that’s amazing, and connect with so many people,” she said.
Erno, who hasn’t left her home in about two weeks, said taking online classes has been challenging.
But as military kids, she said, “We’re just adapting, which is something that we’re super-used to.”