By Mark Squibb/June 2, 2022
The halls were filled with the sound of music and a message of acceptance at Elizabeth Park Elementary on Tuesday morning as students and staff launched their original song, “Just Be You,” and it’s accompanying music video.
The project began last year, and the song and video were written, performed, and produced, with the help of local singer-songwriter Damian Follett, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was an incredible adventure, waking up every single morning to different regulations and guidelines,” joked school music teacher Andrea Lane Gardner. “There’s no singing, don’t sing, now you can sing, now sing outside, now sing inside, don’t be together, be together, and so we managed.”
The video reflects those ever-changing guidelines, with students in some shots singing spaced apart, and standing side-by-side in other shots, masked at one moment but not the next, sometimes singing inside, and sometimes singing outside, all depending on what the regulations called for at the moment.
Prior to the writing of the song and filming of the video, Follett had come to the school for a number of song writing sessions with the Grade fives and sixes.
“March 12 was the last day he came in,” said Lane Gardner. “And we know what happened shortly after that: everything shut down completely. But, we still had some notes from those sessions, and so a year later, Donna (assistant principal Donna Winsor) and Damian and I got together and chatted and said, ‘How can we make this work, how can we make this happen?’ And so, we met with the Grade fives virtually on Google Meet, and Damian is an incredible songwriter and he has an incredible way of bringing people together and getting them onboard and getting them excited about supporting each other and sending positive messages, but, that being said, the students had the idea to write a song about that topic, of just being yourself, of just being kind.”
Follett was one of the guest speakers in attendance.
“I’m thrilled to have worked with the kids on this,” said Follett. “If we’re going to save the world, we’ve got to start with the younger generation, because it’s a little bit messy out there now.”
Six Grade six students, representing the over 80 children who participated, were also in attendance and spoke to what the song, and the whole experience, meant to them.
“I loved working on the song, and I loved working with everyone involved,” said Rachel Penney. “’Just Be You’ has come such a long, long way, and everyone worked so hard to make this happen.”
“This song has a very meaningful message,” said Ryan Zillman. “It tells everyone to spread kindness, and to be kind to everyone. Some people are going through tough times, and this is the song that could bring some hope to everyone.”
“I think doing this was an amazing experience, and this song turned out better than I could have imagined,” said Lailah Rickert. “I think everyone worked really hard for this to happen.”
Added Adam Barker: “I remember, actually, on the day we started recording ‘Just Be You,’ I gave Mrs. Lane Gardner a painted rock with ‘JBY’ on it, and I saw that rock the day we started talking about when the video launch was going to be, and I thought, ‘How crazy that this project was made a year ago, when everything was shut down.’ I loved watching all the pieces fall together.”
“I loved the words and their meaning,” said Kyla Zillman — who jokingly admitted that sometimes it could be hard to remember all the lyrics. “You know when you study for a test and after the test, you just like, ‘forget about it?’ Ladies and gentleman — that was me with the lyrics.”
Jake Marhsall was the final student who spoke.
“’Just Be You’ means that you should just be yourself and shouldn’t care what people say about you,” said Marshall. “I think everyone can relate to this song in some way, because we are all different. We should just be ourselves, and do what makes us happy. Never change something about yourself just because someone says something about you. Be kind to everyone, and they might be kind back. Just be you.”
The song, and music video, can be found on the school’s website and social media channels.