Dave Carlock: Tribute to Newtown hits YouTube

Published 12:08 pm Friday, January 11, 2013

Last week’s column was Part Two in the making of my Holidays music video for Newtown, Conn. When we last left off, the strings, guitar, bass, drums and percussion had been cut leaving the tracking of the kid’s choir and the shooting the video as the final work on the docket before editing and release.

Putting the kid’s choir together took a bit of searching. My biggest concern was whether the political tone of the message at the end of the video would discourage families from lending their child’s voice. It was important to me to be sure parents were OK with the purpose of the video, which was to show our love and support to Newtown as well as to call for reform in gun control and the mental health system in the United States.

Fortunately, my public commentary on the presidential race last November connected me with a lot of like-minded locals so, when I put out a call for kids to sing in the video, I was contacted right away by parents who were more than willing to have their kids involved in the message. I’ve always found that speaking up about who you are and what you believe may rock the boat you rode in on, but it also calls out to a much bigger boat ready to sail on with you.

Larry and Sandy Feldman were a great help, too, putting out the invitation to the parents of their All God’s Children choir — about half of the kids came from their referral. Of the 23 or so kids that planned to come, we had 15 show up on Dec. 22, only three days before Christmas morning. For ease, we opted to have the kids sing in the art gallery on the first floor of my building.

The whole event had a great vibe with Richard Vance, my good friend and trusty sommelier for the adjoining Tabor Hill Wine Tasting Room, serving up wine or juice tastes to the parents while the kids sang, led by Sandy Feldman who jumped in to help while I engineered from the building’s top floor, sending foldback monitoring through a JBL-powered EON connected by the pre-run cabling I have set up for tracking my seven-foot grand piano which lives in the art gallery. My daughter was a great help, handling all the release paperwork and greeting people, while I made sure we were ready, and once we started, she snapped some photos.
The tracking went pretty quickly, the main suggestions to the kids were to sing out and sing loud. The unusual “Happy Christmas” shouts at the end were tracked as they’re heard, the delay between the two takes created by the kids’ doubling it without a time reference. I wondered if that was how Phil Spector created it in 1971. The fade out of the delayed sound bite over the tremolo strings evokes an unusual feeling, just as the original did.

After the recording, we lept immediately into the shots of singer Dawn Burns and the kids on the streets of the Benton Harbor Arts District. I had scoped out the locations earlier and knew the shots. The Water Street Glassworks/Gelatoworks managers were great to let us have the kids and parents inside where the glass furnaces kept everyone warm while we waited for Dawn to finish getting ready for her closeup. Once she arrived, we rehearsed once or twice, and I directed Dawn’s blocking for her camera entrances and exits and asked the kids to look directly into the camera as much as possible during the opening verse, imagining how I would edit the footage as we shot.

We shot three backdrops with the kids, though the video only showed two. The third backdrop was shot on the steps of the Citadel Music Center. As it turned out, the editing was stronger with only two, and the third shot in front of the unadorned pine tree in a downtown garden yielded some beautiful surprises in the second take: a pre-setting sun suddenly burned through the treetop as the “missing star” and the conclusion of the shot was augmented by a group of 20-plus birds shooting left through the upper right side of the frame. Instinctively, I followed with the camera until trees obstructed the silhouetted birds. In editing, I had just enough footage to slow-mo the closing shot to extend it to the end of the track. It was a moment that everyone has connected with, as those type of unplanned magical moments always are.

In that regard, I always remember the words of producer Quincy Jones, who famously told Michael Jackson that when creating, one should always “leave space for God to walk through the room.” Even if you don’t have a religious belief, most people can acknowledge the existence of random events. What causes this “participatory randomness” in the periphery of creative types is certainly up for debate. Perhaps God? Fate? Quantum physics? Chaos? But nonetheless, those happy accidents or unexplained events in collaborative randomness always seem to make direct connection with humankind.

After wrapping up shooting on Sunday, the video was edited, the final mix of music laid in, and a YouTube message in a bottle was being uploaded to the net just 36 hours later at 3:30 a.m. while I crashed. At 9 a.m. Christmas morning, I sent out a link to share in virtual stockings around the world on its way to Newtown. Since then, the video has been shared and posted into the Newtown, Conn., community through various channels and I’ve received a few letters of thanks for the work done on their behalf.

For those who’d like to take a look at our version of the John Lennon classic, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” just search YouTube for my name, and have a Happy New Year.


Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business with a production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District. www.davecarlock.com.