When 13-year-old Michael Waller of the Sacred Heart Schools walked into the recording studio, he knew it would be no ordinary day in music class.
He and his fellow classmates from the Sacred Heart Justice Day Choir would be recording a kids’ song called “Brand New Day,” written by a professional songwriter with more than 20 years in the business.
The song, written for a school assembly, quickly morphed into something with a much higher profile -- a slickly recorded track that, according to Sacred Heart, quickly became a popular download on amazon.com.
“It’s an experience other students didn’t have and it was cool to talk about it in school,” Waller says.
Work on “Brand New Day” began almost a year ago when the schools’ fine arts council asked composer Ira Antelis, whose daughter attends Sacred Heart, to select music for its annual Justice Day - an all-day event, celebrating the work of Martin Luther King.
Antelis, who wrote the “Be Like Mike” jingle for Gatorade, and “Celebrate the Future,” which was sung by pop idols Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias at Super Bowl XXXIV, decided to take the request one step further by writing an original score.
He enlisted his musician friends to perform it for free and he led students through his call-and-response song.
Antelis says he fashioned his tune like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” where one singer belts out a phrase that is then repeated by others.
The song was never supposed to go any further than the school gymnasium.
“I was just trying to make the kids happy,” says Antelis.
But Joe Shanahan, parent to two kids at Sacred Heart, had other ideas after he heard the performance.
“I got the whole idea in the gym with the kids singing music on lyric sheets that Ira had written,” says Shanahan, owner of Metro, the well-known Chicago music venue. “It was one of the most moving moments of my life.”
So, last spring, about two dozen kids from Sacred Heart recorded the song at Leo Burnett Worldwide ad agency, where Antelis is a music consultant.
After completing the studio recording, Antelis mixed the song. It was a tedious process since he had to parse apart dozens of kids singing various lines with an adult lead accompanying.
But finally, he had a finished product, reflecting what that social justice day had meant to him.
“It’s about how things can get better,” Antelis says, “And you can always turn it around.
While cutting a record was fun for the kids, the most important aspect for Sacred Heart music teacher Laura Becker was the learning experience her students had.
“The kids got to go to a real recording studio, Becker says. “They got real world experience that they could never have gotten in a classroom.”
Emma Pool, 14, who performed the song with Waller says that while the recording studio experience was valuable to her as a music student, it was watching other students in the stands at the assembly, that impressed her most.
“When you see kids singing and swaying in the stand to the music, it’s really amazing,” Pool says.
The song’s proceeds will be dedicated to Antelis’ ex-wife, Roni Ralston, who died of cancer a few years ago. The money will go toward Sacred Heart scholarships.