by Jim Chiao & Hillary Chang
How the project got started
Tony Guo, a youth volunteer, first learned about FCSN from one of his close friends. He recalled, “My friend put in detail how to join FCSN on a Discord server. After I joined the Saratoga FCSN chapter, I heard that the FCSN 25th anniversary was coming up and they might need music to go along with a related project, so I asked my personal counselor at CP Mentorship, Catherine Liu, if she could help me connect to FCSN. To my surprise, she was actually closely connected with FCSN.”
Catherine first got to know FCSN more than ten years ago. She went to a Special Needs Talent Showcase with her family and was very impressed. She went on to invite more friends to enjoy the event in the later years. Catherine spoke about the initiation of this project: “I have known Tony since he was an eighth grader in Redwood High School. Tony has been very into music, and he has also always had a big heart. I run a non-profit organization called CP Mentorship to help pair young children with mentors to do Impact Projects together. While talking to Tony about whom he wanted to help most during the pandemic, he mentioned FCSN. He is member of the FCSN club at Saratoga High. It has been almost a year since the lockdown, and he wants to help children with special needs in any way he could.” Catherine then connected with Anna through Dean, her longtime friend and non-profit partner. Afterwards, Anna and Catherine started to brainstorm of possible projects for a high schooler who was interested in music/video production. From there, they came up with the idea of a song and a music video for FCSN’s 25th anniversary.
Catherine brought in Bruce Wenze Li to this project, who happens to be Tony’s music teacher. Bruce is a music producer and music educator in the Bay Area. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years.
From the FCSN side, Anna invited Jim Chiao and Dora Chou to join this project. Anna served as the lead of the project, Dora helped coordinate the meetings and handle the logistics, and Jim helped with the lyrics, photo collection, and some coordination.
Define the music video project
The main goal of the music video project was to create an original song and a music video in celebration of FCSN’s 25 th anniversary. It was early March when the team first got together, and they decided that the theme of the song was to express FCSN’s long term goal of building a community of love, hope, respect for our children with special needs. The schedule was fairly tight, as the team wanted to complete the music video by the end of May. Bruce had the most experience in music production, and he naturally became the director and producer of the music video.
In the first few meetings, Bruce laid out the steps of making a music video and his role in this project. Bruce explained, “For this project, my main responsibilities are to organize the whole project timeline and figure out the things we need to do, including composing music, writing lyrics, auditioning singer’s, creating a recording schedule and a video shooting schedule, and many post-productions like music final mixing, video editing and color correction, etc. As a producer, I need to make sure the quality of the music and the video is good and the whole production is smooth. During the production, I will also teach Tony my experience of music producing. I think this is a good chance for everyone in this project to learn about music.”
Bruce had a complete production team behind him, and he was ready to supply all the resources from songwriting to singing and video production. He said that Tony Guo would work on the music composition first, and that needed to be done quickly. Tony did not disappoint us; he came back with the first version within two weeks. We all listened to it together at one Zoom meeting, it had a beautiful melody and was slow in tempo. Next, what the team needed was the lyrics.
Writing the lyrics
For the lyrics, FCSN team decided that it was best if they wrote it themselves—after all, no outsider could express their feelings better. To find people to write the lyrics, Jim first asked around the Board members and some parents. However, after one week without any response, Jim decided to take the matter into his own hands, even though he has never written any lyrics before. Separately, Anna asked parent writer, Johnna Laird, to write lyrics as well. Jim and Johnna each wrote their own pieces. However, they were not entirely satisfied, so they decided to work together. After two weeks, they got together with Anna, and finalized the lyrics during a long and exhaustive Zoom session.
Jim recalled: “In writing the lyrics, we want to talk about our special children, our mission, vision, and our Dream Project. However, it soon became clear that trying to express all these ideas in a few short lines was a huge challenge. Eventually, I remembered an article written by Sufen Wu many years ago with the title ‘A Child from a Star’, and decided to write the song about the ‘Children of the Stars’. At around the same time, Johnna also finished her version. As deadline approached, one night, Johnna, Anna, and I held a long Zoom meeting, and we combined the best parts of the two versions and hammered all the words into place. It was not easy, as the three of us argued over some lines and pondered over the use of some words. But we were relieved when it was all done, and it was truly a work of collaboration. As for the name of the song, we all liked Johnna’s suggestion of ‘Friends With Dreams’, as it best describes many of us at FCSN.”
Finding the singers
At first, Bruce thought of using outside singers. However, Anna insisted that the song be performed by our special needs individuals. She said that we have developed many talents at FCSN, and there is every reason to give them the opportunity to perform.
Anna explained, “I have fond memories of FCSN’s first fundraising gala in 2002 where our young children with special needs performed. Even though they were not polished performers, their cute and angelic faces stole the audience’s hearts. Often, individuals with disabilities were looked upon as people with no abilities. It is FCSN’s vision to change this mindset in the community. We have developed numerous programs and events to discover and develop our children’s abilities and talent. Their journeys are all unique. They found their hidden gifts and passion at different ages, in their early years, in their teens, or even in their adulthood. On our 25th anniversary, we are proud to say that we’ve discovered and developed over 50 talented artists and performing artists within our BIG FCSN Family.” Within two weeks, Anna was able to recruit six of FCSN’s talented vocalists; and they are: Lawrence Wang, Greg Hebert, Frank Prenot, Andrew Quach, Michael Erhardt, and Tony Nakamoto. They were given a short time to practice before taping was to take place.
Video taping & editing
The music video was taped over a weekend. Bruce recalled: “For video shooting, I think all the singers and parents did a really good job and it was way better than I expected. The whole process was smooth and all of the singers gave a pretty good performance. As a producer, I was really happy that we got all the footage in one shooting day.”
He continued, “For the video editing part, the editor and I tried to line up all the perfect timing for the singers. We did the color correction and made sure it looked great. The addition of lyrics makes it easier for the audience to understand the song. Also, I would like to thank all the key crew members for their valuable feedback to make this music video better. I’m sure this is going to be a great memory for everyone.”
After the video was completed, Bruce added, “Music videos for me are a better way to let people understand the music or the song. For our project, of course, before we made the video, it was only a song with a beautiful melody and good voices. But after the video was released, people will know what is really happening to all the special needs people.”
As a final thought, Catherine said, “I am very impressed with how capable these FCSN special needs individuals are. They have beautiful voices, confident smiles, and a very positive attitude towards everything they do. Also, I am amazed by how close the community is. I was initially puzzled why FCSN could attract so many volunteers each year. Now, after working with the community, I can understand why: FCSN is a source of energy and dreams.”