Montville middle schoolers get song custom made by film composer

Composer Jim Papoulis conducts the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville performing the world-premier of his song 'Kila Sauti' for classmates Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Composer Jim Papoulis conducts the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville performing the world-premier of his song "Kila Sauti" for classmates Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Montville — "This next song," music teacher Judy Abrams told her audience Wednesday, "has never ever been performed."

Abrams, the director of choral music at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School, then turned over the auditorium stage to Jim Papoulis — a film composer and musician whose work was featured at the 2012 Beijing Olympics and the 2008 U.S. presidential inauguration.

Papoulis helped found a nonprofit organization in 2000 to bring children into the composing world, and now travels across the U.S. and the globe collaborating with young singers to create original music made just for them to sing. And on Thursday, Abrams' choir class gathered on Tyl's auditorium stage for two performances of an original song he composed for them.

Abrams met Papoulis over the summer and asked him to compose something for her students. She spoke on the phone with the composer over next several months before he arrived in Montville with "Kila Sauti," a song in English and Swahili.

At Thursday's midday show, the singers were nervous, self-conscious in front of their classmates and unused to the extra attention. They had been rehearsing for weeks under Abrams' guidance, but Papoulis was hearing them sing his composition for the first time in a month.

"It's kind of scary," eighth-grader Madeline Horkey said before the group sang in front of their classmates.

But, Mary Geralde said, the weeks of rehearsals helped.

"It sounds so much better," she said, grinning.

After a selection of songs performed by the school's chamber choir, the full eighth-grade group took the stage.

"Listen when I am calling even though I am small," they sang, accompanied by piano and a small djembe shaker, a handheld percussion instrument with a netting of beads on the outside. "Teach us all to listen with our hearts."

Papoulis watched intently from the audience, his elbows on his knees. They sounded good, he said afterward. The evening show would sound better, Abrams said.

Thursday wasn't the last time the world would hear "Kila Sauti." Tyl's chamber choir, a smaller group of singers at the school, will perform it at a competition in Massachusetts Friday morning.

Papoulis said he's learned through experience what teenagers want to sing about, and how it differs from traditional choral compositions.

"I want to write what they want to (sing)," Papoulis said. "They just like things that are cool, that don't have a cheesy message."

The message of Papoulis' song could be taken as cheesy — "if we could stand together, we would learn to grow" — but in Abrams' hands, she said, it became a lesson.

"Your voice does matter," she said she told her students during rehearsal. "Everyone is important."

m.shanahan@theday.com

Composer Jim Papoulis introduces his song 'Kila Sauti' to the audience before conducting the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville performing the world premier of the song Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Composer Jim Papoulis introduces his song "Kila Sauti" to the audience before conducting the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville performing the world premier of the song Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Composer Jim Papoulis gives some last-minute guidance to members of the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville before they perform the world premier of his song 'Kila Sauti' for their classmates Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Composer Jim Papoulis gives some last-minute guidance to members of the eighth-grade chorus at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School in Montville before they perform the world premier of his song "Kila Sauti" for their classmates Thursday, May 18, 2017. Papoulis' organization, Foundation for Small Voices, conducts songwriting workshops with choirs around the world. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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