Author: Judy Barlow, Citizen Journalist
Mike Preston is a lucky man; he said so himself. Everyone at the Brentwood School of Music was getting ready for a big student recital at the Friendship Baptist Church on June 11. “In the past, the teachers have helped out with some of the more challenging parts,” Mike said. “But this year the girls are all over it – so we’re helping out the singers.” But who are the girls and what is it all about?
The girls are four teens who had embraced the most daunting challenge of their music training so far; the most iconic piece of pop music ever performed, Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Freddie Mercury for Queen’s 1975 album A Night at the Opera. Together with local acapella group, ‘The Screechers’ they formed a unique collaboration between teen rockers and classically trained adult vocalists.
How famous is this song? The Jones Soda Company named a drink ‘Bohemian Raspberry’ in its honour; in 1992 it climbed back up to #2 on Billboard after Mike Meyers used it in the movie, Wayne’s World; and in 2009, The Muppets Studio released their first web video – a Muppet performance of Bohemian Rhapsody, viewed more than 7 million times in the first week alone. Queen’s 1975 video release has almost 52 million viewings on YouTube. To quote Freddie Mercury that’s a lot of, “escape from reality”.
If you know the song, there’s no need to sell you on it. You already either love it or hate it. If you don’t know the song, nothing could prepare you for it anyway. It’s a demanding piece. Even Queen couldn’t perform it live the way it was recorded. Legend has it that Freddie wrote the song on telephone books and hundreds of paper scraps. Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Freddie Mercury sang all the lyrics themselves, reportedly singing and recording the song repeatedly for ten to twelve hours every day for three weeks, with 180 separate overdubs. The operatic part alone took over 70 hours to record.
Fifteen-year-old Lena Laitinen was the driving force behind this production. “I wasn’t really serious about it at first, but then we thought, ‘Hey, we should really do it.’ And now I’m pretty stoked about it. We’ve been working on it for months,” Lena said. Once the idea took hold Lena asked her friend, fourteen-year-old Bethany Mann to sign on as the drummer. Bethany agreed, thinking it would be, “pretty cool” to do the song. Then all they needed was the other half of the band; piece of cake.
As it turns out Josh, another teacher knew, “two gals,” bassist, fourteen-year-old Carli MacKinnon, and guitarist, fourteen-year-old Erin Clease who were eager to try it. “It was a tad nerve-wracking but exciting. It feels good to be able to pull off a good song and have fun doing it,” said Carli. Erin added, “It’s pretty cool to be playing this song. It was fun to be part of a band. I liked not having all the pressure on me. I didn’t like having to rely on other people though.”
But Bohemian Rhapsody demands reliance on other people. The girls originally thought they could do the vocals themselves, but to get the right sound a choir was needed. That’s how acapella group, ‘The Screechers’ got involved. Maggie Bolz, Jannelle Bailey, Kathy Criddle, Cindy Mackey, Sherrie Unwin, Kallie Allen, and Tina Ronse were delighted to help out when asked to perform the operatic part of the piece.
And finally, on June 11th, after weeks of hard work, they pulled it all together in front of an appreciative audience of families and friends; a tribute to the musical genius of Freddie Mercury, who sadly died of AIDS at far too young an age.
“Music is the most accessible art form,” says Mike. “It’s all around us. You work all year and just keep your head down, and you often end up doubting yourself. But it’s amazing how overwhelmed I am when I see these kids care so much about one five-minute piece of work. I’m the luckiest guy in the world … to be a part of this – the commitment to something genuine – how it all comes together for five minutes even if it never happens again. It’s exciting.”
“Classic rock should never die,” says Lena. As long as there are young musicians who share Lena’s passion, it won’t.