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VIDEO: Local students perform boomwhacker cover of 'Billie Jean'

Music department at St. Mary's College purchased the boomwhackers to 'offset the loss of opportunity to play concert band instruments due to COVID-19 health restrictions'

In an effort to keep the music program alive during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Mary's College music teacher Kait Tappenden decided to think outside the box and purchase a few sets of boomwhackers, which are pitched plastic percussion tubes that are easy to sanitize.

A release issued today by the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) states that Tappenden chose the boomwhackers  "to offset the unfortunate loss of opportunity to play a concert band instrument because of health restrictions."

Students in the third quadmester Grade 9 class were given the opportunity to pick a percussion-based song to perform and record.

"After making a list, the song that stuck out immediately was Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. It has a very well-known bass line and memorable melody,” said Tappenden in the release.

Four weeks of practice and a week of recording resulted in the performance video above.

Full text of the HSCDSB news release follows:

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes to the methods used in teaching over the past year. For music teachers, the challenges have been numerous but not insurmountable. At. St. Mary’s College, music teacher Kait Tappenden tried an approach that gained popularity because of pandemic restrictions.

In the fall, Ms. Tappenden decided to purchase a few sets of boomwhackers to offset the unfortunate loss of opportunity to play a concert band instrument because of health restrictions. Boomwhackers are percussion tubes that are pitched. They can be sanitized after each use and each tube plays a different note.

“The inspiration came from a YouTube channel called HarvardTHUD, which makes popular music into boomwhacker covers,” said Tappenden.

“While they are difficult to play, I figured if students at Harvard could recreate great songs, then my students could as well.”

Ms. Tappenden asked her students to help make a list of tunes that they liked and she had to figure out which one was going to be most inspiring.

“It also had to sound decent using percussion only. After making a list, the song that stuck out immediately was Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean'. It has a very well-known bass line and memorable melody,” said Tappenden.

The third quadmester Grade 9 class took about four weeks to learn the piece together. Then, over the course of another week, some parts were recorded separately and others with the class together. In fact, the final product – a video – has some footage of the recording process in it. The other percussion instruments used were a drum kit, timpani, glockenspiel, and piano.

“I wanted the recording to still have a live feel as the percussion ensemble is very unique and this is as close to performing live as we can get at this time,” said Tappenden.

Tappenden took a chance on purchasing the boomwackers, not knowing how her Grade 9 students would react. They say that the experience has been fun and rewarding.

“The final recording sounded different than I thought it would. It went better than I expected it to. I felt confident about recording the audio separately because I could focus better on my part. I am happy it turned out as good as it did,” said Tyson Bastos.

“I wanted to play piano and drums, but instead I played boomwhackers, which was fine because those were fun too. My music teacher made music really fun by letting me play piano, and is helping me learn how to play, which is definitely not what I expected,” said Matthew Frolick.

“I am glad I took this course because I love learning the new things in music and playing instruments. One thing that surprised me the most was that we played with boomwhackers. A piece of plastic can actually sound like different notes. It’s just amazing how that works,” said Summer Gordon.

“When I came into music, I felt a little nervous because I didn't know very much about playing instruments or rhythm. As we got further into the year, I got better at playing music and got more confident and I liked coming to this class,” said Joey Gulley.

“I feel quite confident in my playing skills and practicing now that I have some more experience playing music. I've improved a lot during this class and learned a lot about music.”

This student reaction is what Ms. Tappenden was hoping for in a year that has been a challenge. She wants to assure everyone that music is still alive and well at St. Mary's College. She hopes their video is something the community will enjoy.

For the rest of this course, students have the opportunity to learn either guitar or piano. They are working on an arrangement of a song that became popular through Tik Tok - 'Arcade' by Duncan Laurence.