Throughout my whole life, whenever I was asked where I'm from, I used to respond, "You've probably never heard of it."
All that changed the first morning after I had returned home from my most recent semester at Vanderbilt. Waking up to a myriad of frantic texts and voicemails, which claimed that a shooting had occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary, I incredulously turned on the news to find my little town broadcasted on CNN. As misinformation and even more horrifying realities poured in, I gradually became unable to direct my eyes away from the TV screen.
I could not decide which fact was the hardest to believe: that someone would take the lives of innocent children and teachers, that this heinous act had been carried out in my hometown, or that I had been in the same grade as the troubled perpetrator. Disbelief, sorrow, confusion, frustration -- these words don't begin to describe the complicated feeling I experienced.
The media bombardment began immediately. Determined to understand the shooter's motives, news organizations incessantly contacted any of our classmates they could find, despite the fact that virtually none of these people had seen him in the three years that had passed since we graduated from Newtown High School. In our town's most intense time of grieving, cameras and microphones were shoved in our faces. Nonetheless, the love and support shown within the community has been remarkable.
Several days after the shooting, I knew I had to get my thoughts down on paper. After putting together the beat and writing the vocals for the tribute song I named "Playground", I contacted Bianca Crudo, one of my Newtown classmates who's known for her theater performances. She readily agreed to sing the song's chorus. Once the track was recorded, I hastily put the video together with the help of my good friend, Jeff Dinicola, also a Newtown graduate who was touched by these events.
The lyrics in this song were some of the most heartfelt that I've written in my entire life. The concluding lines, however, were something I discovered the night of the tragedy, when I attended services at my Newtown synagogue for the first time in ages. During the moving service, we came across one passage that gripped me in particular:
"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I do not feel it.
And I believe in God even when He is silent."
This poem, scratched on a cellar wall by a Jew hiding from Nazi persecution, could not have resonated with me more. Considering that faith was one thing I believed people could use in this time more than ever, I chose to include these powerful words in the conclusion of my song.
As much as I put my heart and soul in the creation of this video, the focus is not meant to be the music, but rather the message. One must remember that, even as the rest of the world moves on over the next few weeks, Newtown will remain afflicted by this tragedy. More importantly, the victims' families will never be the same. I wrote "Playground" in hopes of capturing and articulating the collective feelings of my community as well as to honor the magnificent people who we lost on that fateful day.
Robbie Parker, Emilie's father, reminded us to "remember these beautiful children; keep them close to our hearts. Do not let their bright shining faces become extinguished." I hope that my tribute helps keep the victims' legacies alive.