If you happened across the website of alt-rock giants R.E.M. last week ( www.remhq.com
), you may have been surprised to see, at the very top of the home page, the announcement, "Chapel Hill Community Chorus Project performs 'Everybody Hurts.'"
Same thing on R.E.M.'s Facebook page. The top post on the band's Facebook Wall said, "Watch the Chapel Hill Community Chorus Project perform 'Everybody Hurts'" with links to the website and the Youtube video .
As of noon Thursday, the Facebook post had recorded 1,107 Likes and drawn 92 comments.
"It's very exciting," said Lauren Hodge, founder of the Community Chorus Project, which gives local middle- and high school-age kids an outlet to learn and perform vocal music. "R.E.M. has millions of fans all over the world, and to think that so many of them are looking at what we've done, and liking and commenting on it, we're very grateful."
Hodge, in collaboration with the UNC Department of Music, founded the Community Chorus Project earlier this year. The group's first project was a two-week summer workshop that drew some 70 young local singers.'How could we say no?'
At the end of the workshop, equipped with a $5,000 Innovations grant from UNC, Hodge, along with UNC music chair Terry Rhodes and associate professor of communication studies Pat Parker, organized recording sessions for the 32 high schoolers: one for R.E.M.'s aching, poignant "Everybody Hurts" and the other for Adele's hit "Rolling in the Deep."
Hodge obtained permission to record the songs from the publishers and gained the approval of the original performers and their managers.
"The band has released a couple hundred songs, and a few of them have sort of transcended into the culture, so we get a fair number of requests," said Betis Downs, R.E.M.'s manager. "We try to agree to most of them, especially for things like this, which are about music education and working with kids who don't necessarily have a lot of prior experience in music.
"Plus, it's in Chapel Hill, so how could we say no?"
Hodge commissioned keyboardist Eric Hirsch, of the local band The Beast, and cellist Shana Tucker to write original arrangements and lead the students through rehearsals.
With Tucker conducting and musicians from The Beast and the Mallarme Chamber Players backing them up, the students recorded the two tunes at Manifold Studios, a spectacularly outfitted professional recording studio in Pittsboro owned by Red Hat software executive Michael Tiemann and his wife Amy.
On "Everybody Hurts," Katie Weddle, a 15-year-old student from Raleigh, took the main solo. Chapel Hill' s Gray Symon and Raleigh's Brad Meir added solo sections as the rest of the chorus lifted and propelled the song.
"It was an amazing experience," said Symon, who graduated from Chapel Hill High School this spring and is bound for the University of Maryland. "That was the most awesome studio I've ever seen. No echo at all. We had a great time."
The recording sessions were filmed by Scott Rucci and edited into professional quality videos.Dancing in the aisles
The Community Chorus members and their families got to watch a screening of the videos at the Varsity Theater last weekend - "They were dancing in the aisles," Hodge said - and she sent the video of the "Everybody Hurts" session to Downs last Monday.
"'Everybody Hurts' is an unbelievably beautiful song about the universality of pain and suffering, and the need to hold on and to take comfort in your friends," Hodge said. "And to hear that song filtered through the hearts and experiences of 32 high school kids, it's just incredibly powerful."
Apparently R.E.M. thought so, too.
"I thought it was fantastic," Downs said. "That song has touched a lot of people over the years, and what this group did with it was really nice. I sent it around to the guys in the band and got some nice feedback, and sent it around to other people I know in the business, especially those who have some connection to Chapel Hill.
"It's very professionally done. It's a great arrangement, it has a really good feel, nice energy, and I like the way the choral director interacts with the chorus. The kids did a great job."
He posted the story and link on the band's website Tuesday morning and put it on Facebook soon after that.
"I was sort of surprised by that," Symon said. "People do covers of R.E.M.'s songs all the time. It's pretty cool that they chose this one to publicize on their sites."
Hodge is awaiting permission from Adele's management to release the video of "Rolling in the Deep." But the reception "Everybody Hurts" has received has already been something special, she said.
"This whole experience has been remarkable," she said. "Doing the song was amazing. Bertis Downs has been a gem. And then to see the kind of reaction it's gotten, well, it has just been extraordinary."