Special Needs Students Open Up in New Music Video [Video]
The latest Bridges music video, "Who I Am," premiered on Monday at the high school.
Ten of the district’s Bridges students, by now bona fide on-screen veterans, premiered their second music video of the year this Monday in front of an intimate crowd of friends, family and school personnel.
Titled “Who I Am,” the 11-minute video was conceived of and directed by high school music teacher John Giresi, who also wrote the song’s music and lyrics.
A more dramatic and introspective take than their December debut, “Who I Am,” opens with a documentary-style question-and-answer segment during which each of the students from the Bridges program – which serves teens with cognitive disabilities -- answers questions about themselves.
Giresi said he wanted to not only give glimpses into each student’s likes and interests, but also to dig deeper by asking probing questions whose answers were more difficult for the students to articulate.
“The theme of the piece is about a person’s inability to express what they’re really feeling inside for whatever reason,” he said. “I’m a fully functioning person without any major disabilities and I have trouble expressing who I am. You can imagine [the difficulty] for someone who has a disability of some kind, really fully being able to express their feelings all the time.”
Giresi said his teenage son, Matthew, who has Down Syndrome, inspired him to write the piece.
“I did think of my son because I know if he’s sad, he can’t really express why he’s sad,” Giresi said. “But as I was writing it, I also realized I was writing about myself. I think it’s very universal. Whether you’re a graduate of Harvard and have a degree in Business Law, or whatever, a lot of people have trouble expressing who they really are inside…I think everyone can relate to the message of the song on some level.”
Matthew, a Bridges I student, makes his video debut in “Who I Am.” The video’s other stars -- Kelsey Mastrobuoni, Florangel Nunez, Raychelle Binns, Danybel Felix, Jade Massimi, Elaine Yip, Denise Marain, Erin Hayes and Ben Shaltuper -- all come from the district's Bridges II program and appeared in December's music video for Miley Cyrus' "The Climb."
Unlike their performance in "The Climb," however, the Bridges students didn't do any of the singing for their new video.
"['The Climb'] was about, 'I could do anything, I could be a star, I could be a rock star,'" Giresi said. "This one here is not about that. It’s not about them performing, it’s about what’s inside. I wanted the message of the lyrics to be very clear and not obstructed by different people singing different parts of the song, or someone struggling through it."
Giresi chose Fair Lawn High School graduate and current Bergen Community College student Joseph Tolentino to perform the song's vocals.
Tolentino was the lead in the high school's award-winning 2007 production of "Grand Hotel," and has continued singing and performing since he graduated.
"I like using and bringing back students as young professionals," said Giresi, who also directs the high school's annual musical. "I think it’s a good thing for the school and the community to keep this connection going."
Going forward, Giresi said he plans to continue producing videos with his Bridges II class and believes strongly that it has benefited his students' growth.
"I feel these video projects are so important to the Bridges students because it's giving them an outlet to express themselves as individuals, as artists, as human beings -- whether it's an inspirational piece like 'The Climb,' or something that’s a little bit more introspective like 'Who I Am," he said. "And aside from that, it's an opportunity...to increase awareness to other people about who they are. They have a story to tell."
For his next video project, Giresi said he'd like to forego a serious message and instead break out with a choreographed dance number.
"I want to do something where it’s just going to be fun and upbeat," he said. "Maybe do some scene stuff, a la the Beatles' "A Hard Day’s Night," and then going into a big breakout video, a la Britney Spears, “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” -- merging those things together."
Giresi plans to begin fundraising for the next Bridges video in the fall.