Aaron Snipes III walks across a largely empty stage. Initially, we see only his black shoes reflecting overhead lights in front of a splash of red curtain.
Looking defeated, he sits at a piano. A sigh. He rubs his face, wipes off the piano and begins to play. His facial expression melts into peace as the first notes roll off his fingers. The camera pans around him and through the instrument.
Snipes, director of bands at Braswell, performed as part of a video produced by the Braswell High School Band Media Team. The video is currently entered into a competition sponsored by Band, a social media app that caters to high school band members, directors and parents.
When he first heard about the contest, he jumped at the opportunity.
The band previously won $2,000 through the social media app, which went toward musician scholarships for private lessons at Braswell’s two feeder schools, Navo and Rodriguez middle schools.
If they win this video contest, such scholarships will be on the list of potential uses for the prize money. Band directors also hope to save some of the money for the band program. With a relatively new school like Braswell, they don’t have the reserve funding available to institutional schools.
In total, the contest has $35,000 on the table: $10,000 will go toward the band with the most YouTube likes, $15,000 to the band with the most views on the streaming site, and a final $10,000 to the band with the most creative video.
If nothing else, those involved at Braswell hope to win in that final category, but bands are able to win in more than one category.
The project was headed by Braswell senior Kody Tang, who was also largely responsible for a hype video made for the band this past year.
Readers might recognize the video if they made their way to any Braswell football games this year. The video played in the stadium before band performances.
Taylor Sitzman, associate director of bands at Braswell, said he had basic ideas for what the hype video should look like, which he brought to Tang. The two worked together, and Sitzman thinks the final product is a huge success.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many football fans and parents stay to watch the halftime show after seeing that hype video,” Sitzman said.
Tang’s production skills didn’t come out of the blue — he’s had an interest in creating videos and short films for a while. Along with his dad, cousins and friends, Tang even created his own media company: Blob Media Group.
Snipes and Sitzman estimated that more than 100 students participated in some aspect of the latest video.
The entire video came together over the course of roughly four days between actual shooting and editing time.
Snipes admitted the most difficult scene to film for everybody was probably his first 60 seconds on screen at the piano.
“It was difficult because I’m a perfectionist,” he said. The piano part wasn’t written ahead of time, so his performance was constantly shifting until he got it to where he liked it.
“It would change and I would listen to it, and [I would say], ‘Kody, I don’t like that,’” Snipes remembered. “Take 25, he’s like, ‘Mr. Snipes, it’s fine, it’s fine.’”
The contest required bands to perform the same song, “We Are Band,” with music and lyrics provided, but the Braswell musicians had their fun with it, and the feeling behind the notes changes with each new scene.
“When you watch our video, it starts off with Savanah Downing,” Snipes said. “She’s singing [the lyrics], but it’s very bluesy and sultry and kind of slow.”
As the camera pans toward Downing, she begins to sing, her voice overtaking the piano.
“We made it sound more like a jazz song,” Downing said. “There aren’t riffs in the song, but I added riffs in there to make it have that really jazz feel and lounge singer kind of feel.”
As Downing fades from view, members of the jazz line bring a faster, lighter energy to the song. A percussionist behind a drum set kicks up the pace while wind and horn lines come in strong.
“We took it and we added a Gene Krupa beat,” Snipes said, calling out the drum set syllables verbally with clapping.
Changing the music and performance in real time was fun for Snipes because it gave the students a closer look at the professional world of music.
“You get the piece; you’ve got the learn it quickly and then you record it to be sold around the world,” he said. “It felt very much like that.”
Finally, the high school marching band finishes up the song on the football field in what Tang remembered as the most difficult scene to film.
Persistent winds made audio recording difficult and messed with uniforms of musicians and color guard members alike.
The video comes to a close with a quick video zoom into a raised trumpet bell.
Tang was hoping to invoke the feeling of a sharp inhale following an intense dream.
“The whole idea is that everything that’s going on — the jazz band, the singing, the marching band — that’s all in his head,” Tang said. “The whole concept is how music can heal someone who is broken and stressed out.”
Since the video began circulating on social media Sunday, Snipes has been asking a couple questions in particular increasingly frequently: “Did you like it?” he’ll ask about the video.
After he gets the invariable “yes,” he follows up with: “But did you press ‘like’?”