Dozens of adoring fans flocked to the Fair Lawn High School Library Friday morning for the world premiere of a new music video by nine of the school’s Bridges II students.
Accustomed to the film cranes, scoop lighting and boom mics from their last shoot, the day’s stars -- dressed in award show garb -- seemed unfazed by the horde of photographers and videographers on hand to capture the unveiling of their moving rendition of Miley Cyrus’, “The Climb.”
Doreen Yates, the primary instructor for the Bridges II program, which serves 16- to 21-year olds with cognitive disabilities, said she truly considered the students superstars.
“This has been an amazing journey for [the Bridges II students],” Yates said. “What began as a small idea, quickly evolved into a life-altering experience...Today you will see the students, who not only enjoy life, but now also truly believe in themselves.”
The Bridges II students who participated in the project were Kelsey Mastrobuoni, Florangel Nunez, Raychelle Binns, Danybel Felix, Jade Massimi, Elaine Yip, Denise Marain, Erin Hayes and Ben Shaltuper.
Under the guidance of music teacher John Giresi, they received the performing arts experience of a lifetime – getting to lay down Cyrus’ song, “The Climb,” in a recording studio and then act in a subsequent music video shot with professional-level equipment, and masterfully mixed and edited.
Giresi, who also directs the school’s award-winning musicals, conceived of the project after he started working with the class in September.
“I wanted to create a kind of public performance opportunity for them, not just make it a general music class,” Giresi said. “And I thought, well what if we produced our own music video and let that be a performance piece for them.”
He chose, “The Climb,” as the feature piece because many of the students liked the song and were familiar with it from having sung it in middle school.
“We came up with a vocal arrangement, giving different kids solos, broke it all up and it turned out really nice,” Giresi said.
Their recording became the soundtrack to the video portion of the project, which Giresi shot at the school over a three-week period.
The project culminated in an all-day video shoot on Dec. 2, for which Giresi brought in his own personal contacts in the photography, videography, hair and makeup industries to create a high-end studio environment for the performers.
Hair and makeup were done by 8:30 that morning, and an hour later, the camera was rolling.
“It was just one great take after the other,” Giresi said of the final shoot. “It really was a tremendous day. They had a lot of fun, they were totally into it. They were not inhibited at all. They really committed to what they were doing.”
At Friday’s ceremony, Giresi said the all-day shoot was one of the most exciting days of his life.
“At the end of that day, I had a rehearsal for the school musical, and I said, you know what, I’m burnt out. That’s it,” he said. “No rehearsal today. I’m done. I’m going home. I was so exhausted because the energy was so high all day long."
Following the final shoot, Giresi merged the videos and began editing them down in preparation for Friday’s premiere, which, once aired, was met with raucous applause and more than a few moist eyes.
Giresi said what was most important to him about the project was that it was representative of the students.
“I didn’t care about the quality of the singing,” he said. “What was important was that it was their voices.”
“All of the singing, whether it’s in tune or out of tune, or in rhythm or out of rhythm, wasn’t important to me. What was important to me was that it was them. That it’s their work, not someone else sweetening it in the studio,"Giresi said on the day of the shoot. "It’s all very real and very genuine and that’s all that mattered to me. Their movement today is their movement.”
Giresi, who’s been directing stage productions for more than a quarter-century and has always worked with the most talented student actors, said it was rewarding to provide a performance experience for individuals who hadn’t had one before.
“In the latter part of my career now, I would love to bring that opportunity to the kids that have never gotten that experience before,” said Giresi, who hopes the project will inspire others to create more musical opportunities for people with special needs. “This was really cool. I'd love to do more projects like this for the district.”