Some topics are hard to talk about — so why not sing about them instead?
On Friday, April 27, Key Chorale will perform a piece of music that adopts this approach with the Booker High School VPA, Riverview High School and Sarasota High School choirs.
This is the fifth year the chorale has partnered with Sarasota County Schools to host “Tomorrow’s Voices Today,” a concert of 200-plus voices of varying age and ability levels that allows students to learn from — and perform with — 90 seasoned voices.
Key Chorale Executive Director Joseph Caulkins says he wanted to make a strong impact this year, and with the right choirs to do it, he turned to a piece by his friend Jake Runestad. “Please Stay” is a haunting yet hopeful work about suicide prevention created through a medium with which high schoolers are particularly familiar: Twitter.
While composing the piece, Runestad encouraged anyone who has overcome suicidal thoughts or been touched by suicide to tweet about their experience with the hashtag #IKeptLiving. He combed through the multitude of inspiring responses and ended up adapting several to be spoken word sections within the work.
Nine students will take a break from singing to present excerpts, such as “Sharing your feelings doesn’t make you weak” and “It is OK to be a work-in-progress.”
“The best way to make a difference is to talk about the hard things,” Caulkins says. “By talking about it, we become better people for it. This is a departure from just beautiful music — it’s music that can change the world.”
Caulkins says the concert gives high schoolers a platform to speak directly to their peers and show them they’re not alone. There is hope, and there are so many great opportunities ahead of them, he adds, but they have to work through their personal obstacles to get there.
The song evolved out of a piece of advice Runestad got from one of his most beloved mentors. He said Runestad has a unique voice, but should be writing songs with subjects and ideas that make the world a better place.
“Choral groups are all about unity and being surrounded by love and positive energy,” Caulkins says. “That’s what this piece does … they’ll feel empowered by singing this piece and remember it in a time when they need it.”
This sense of unity comes from not only a sense of solidarity when addressing the topic of suicide, but a sense of unity amongst the more than 200 voices that will come together on stage.
Bob Wennberg, a bass singer and chorale education committee member, says this is will be his second year participating in the concert. He doesn’t hesitate when asked what he’s most looking forward to.
“Listening to these young people and hearing what they’re passionate about,” he says. “We had an opportunity to communicate about the role music plays in our lives and I shared my own experience as a past teacher and professor and studying classical music.”
He wants to mentor the students and encourage them to continue making music a major part of their life, especially the kind of music that can bring joy and change. He also enjoys guiding students who are interested in making a career out of music, and he continues to help some do so through the chorale’s other outreach efforts such as the Student Scholars Program.
“It’s great to collaborate and see them blossom and grow and engage with each other,” he says. “They’re making great music that is hopefully going to change and enrich lives.”
As for his opinion of the power of young people performing “Please Stay,” he’s equally as enthusiastic as Caulkins.
“Every single young person and old person is important, and it’s a really important song,” he says. “We need everyone to be here and grow and use all their potential.”