While many area Virginians supported the Virginia Tech community this spring through prayers, memorials and letters of condolence, Falls Church resident Will Smith chose a different medium: music.
Born and raised in Pimmit Hills and a graduate of George Mason High School, Smith, who just completed his freshman year at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., accounts for one-sixth of the music group LUV CNU. This April, the group collaborated with singer and songwriter Frank Jordan of Newport News, to produce “Children of April,” a tribute song for the victims of the April 16th Virginia Tech shootings, their families and friends.
“[The song] symbolizes that people need to come together,” said Smith, one of the vocalists. “As with any instance, and especially the Virginia Tech tragedy, we need to stick together.”
Smith said the song has been doing just that: unifying people and helping to bring back the love in the world. LUV CNU first performed “Children of April” at an on-campus communion service at CNU a week after the tragedy, to an audience of 60 – 80 students. Smith described the experience as “absolutely amazing” with the crowd hushed and “moved drastically.” The group has also sent “Children of April” to various departments at Virginia Tech, and received letters of thanks for their song.
Upon hearing of the shootings, Smith was shocked and worried. He had a friend attending Virginia Tech who survived the tragedy, though a fellow classmate at CNU lost his best friend. Smith was inspired to help them out as much as he could.
The project kicked off when Jordan, a member of Our Lady of Mount Catholic Church in Newport News, came to CNU’s Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) Choir with the song in hand. A newly baptized and confirmed Catholic, Smith is an active member of the on-campus ministry, serving as music minister of the choir. Each week Smith goes through the lists of praise songs and chooses a few for each Sunday’s on-campus mass and organizes rehearsals. He fell in love with the song at once.
Emily Bettendorf and Joe Fitzpatrick, also CNU students and part of the CCM choir, joined the project, as did high school students Jason Kronstein and Geyo Maganis from St. Jerome Catholic Church in Newport News. Thus LUV CNU formed. Funded by Jordan, the group recorded with Woody Bradfield of Independent Recording Services in a guitar-filled studio, a place perfectly suited to Smith’s musical sensibilities.
The piece begins simply, with only a guitar and a voice. As the song continues, it moves into greater complexity, picking up additional voices and instruments while retaining a soothing, poignant quality. Three versions of the song are available for download at www.myspace.com/childrenofapril.
Smith’s favorite part of the song are the lines that read: “The children of April still cheer at every game / Send messages of love / As we speak out their names.” These lyrics carry the most meaning for him because he believes that each student is still alive — in spirit — and just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Smith only began singing in October of 2006, yet he’s had a long history with music during his 18 years. He started learning the trumpet in third grade and the guitar, his favorite, last year. In high school, he was a self-described “band geek.”
“Back in high school, I used to get in trouble for sitting in band class and playing what’s not written on the page,” said Smith. “And then I get down there [to CNU] and harmonize one time by accident and this guy, Brian Comer, who was music minister at the beginning of the year, said, ‘That sounded good! Do it again!’”
And so his singing career blossomed. He’s part of a band at CNU with Fitzpatrick and Comer, performing on the rhythm guitar and singing back-up vocals. He loves how singing is a great way to express himself and that “you can do just about anything as long as it works.”
As for the future, Smith has big plans. He aspires to attend law school at either The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. or Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and become a civil lawyer. Currently, he’s part of a fraternity, Tau Delta Phi, and plans to get involved with sports next semester.
Although this last year has been full of surprises, Smith anticipates music as becoming an even more important part of his life. Aside from singing and helping out with the CCM choir, he hopes to collaborate again with Jordan.
“Life has taken some weird twists and turns for me. I never foresaw myself joining a choir, recording or even learning guitar,” Smith said.