Merit School of Music

Class of 2021: The Champions

We are delighted to celebrate our Merit School of Music seniors at the Alice S. Pfaelzer Conservatory virtual graduation ceremony on Sunday! Not only are we celebrating their growth as musicians at Merit, but also their tremendous resilience, adaptability, and creativity which they have shown while navigating the challenges of the past year.

Determined to find a special way to celebrate graduation, Merit senior, Rafael Noriega, seized an opportunity unique to the virtual world. He decided to create a collaborative video performance including all graduating musicians. This Sunday will premiere his unique arrangement of “We Are the Champions,” one of the most familiar songs by the rock band, Queen.

“[We Are the Champions] is often played to celebrate a victorious moment, like the end of a huge sports tournament, and I thought it would be a good choice to represent the fact that we made it through this very tough, unusual year here at Merit.”

Yet, once Rafael decided to create a song arrangement for all of Merit’s seniors to play, he quickly realized that it was no easy feat to create a compelling and balanced arrangement featuring every instrument played—from classical players to jazz musicians to vocalists. The project inspired Rafael, a bass trombonist, to expand his musical arranging skills and learn how to write for instruments beyond his familiar brass section. Over the course of six weeks, Rafael worked with Merit’s Theory Department Chair Michael Nearpass on his arrangement and learned how to interweave each instrument part together to create a cohesive performance piece.

After finalizing the arrangement, the music was distributed to Merit seniors so they could each record their individual videos at home. The culminating performance combines the audio and video from each graduating senior.

Premiering this Sunday at graduation, for Rafael, the performance celebrates the triumphs of the entire Merit community: “I believe that this song doesn’t just relate to the seniors graduating, but to every member of the Merit community because we all learned how to make the most out of this year despite the ongoing global pandemic. Therefore, it can be said that we are all champions and that we should be proud of the growth we’ve developed virtually.”

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