Students in the Arbutus Global middle school music program are back with another high-end performance for a national music competition.
Arbutus students released on Thursday a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a choral arrangement that serves justice to a song millions consider sacred. It’s even more powerful than their last, a winning version of the Olympic theme song that aired during broadcasts of the 2018 Games in PyeongChang as part of the CBC Music Class Challenge.
“Having won last year we wanted to do something again,” said Arbutus music teacher Michael Mazza, who created the arrangement.
It has been well received by friends, family and the community since CBC posted it to their YouTube channel on Thursday. As of Monday it already had 4,300 views.
Choosing Hallelujah wasn’t easy. The competition has grown, and so has the list of the songs that students can choose from. There were 22 to pick from including classics such as Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman Turner Overdrive, Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, and contemporary hits, Stay by Alessia Cara, and Giants by Lights.
“I gravitated towards Hallelujah, partly to pay respect to [Cohen], and because I thought the kids could do it justice,” Mazza said.
The performance opens with Jasmine Yu (Grade 8) plucking her violin, known as pizzicato, and Patrick Huang (Grade 8) playing the familiar refrain on the piano. Playing off of them is the soft claps of the 100-plus choir of students from Grades 6 to 8.
Lead vocalist Dylan Matthews, also in Grade 8, starts confidently but calmly. The choir soon jumps in for a unique, fitting and highly moving version of the legendary song. Guitarist Alexander Gwillim (Grade 8) leads the second verse, as the song adds layer upon layer towards a big finish.
The arrangement was all part of a fluid process. Selling it to the students was easy, as they are all aware of the contest after winning it last year, Mazza said.
WARNING: This incredible rendition of ‘Hallelujah” by @ArbutusGlobal will give you the chills! This group of dedicated Gr. 6-8 students meets every morning to practice & sing their hearts out. WATCH their entry for @CBCMusic's #CanadianMusicClassChallenge: https://t.co/wQpeV3ELFB pic.twitter.com/BzHFOevj2F
— Greater Victoria SD (@sd61schools) November 30, 2018
“It started with Dylan [Matthews], to see if he could sing it, sure enough he nailed it right away,” Mazza said. “It’s not like I had it figured out at the beginning. Jasmine had the idea to play pizzicato at the beginning.”
Matthews is the type of kid who has his guitar on his back as he wanders the school. “Any opportunity to sing and play, he’ll take it,” Mazza said.
At each early rehearsal, Mazza would add things, or take things away until it was something they all liked. Fellow music teacher Jennifer Hill helped too.
“It just came together, they have a lot of passion,” Mazza said. “The [positive] reaction from the public is surprising, it just goes to show you middle school students shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m super proud of them.”