For music students, getting the chance to step into a real recording studio is pretty exciting. But having your work featured on the biggest album of the year is even better.
For students at the Regent Park School of Music, it’s nice to have a friend like Taylor Swift.
Swift’s new album “Lover” includes a song, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” that samples a composition written by a group of music students from the school, which offers a wide variety of music education to kids ages three to 18 in Toronto’s high-priority Regent Park neighbourhood.
“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” samples “Summer in the South,” a composition recorded earlier this year by RPSM students with the help of music producer Frank Dukes, who has worked with The Weeknd, Drake, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar.
The original piece features 14 of the school’s students, between the ages of 9 and 18, playing guitar, saxophone, cello, violin, viola, steel pan, harp, organ, strings, drums, and xylophone, as well as their voices.
“Summer in the South” is featured along with 10 other compositions from the same session on “Parkscapes,” a music library that donates the majority of its sales, licenses and royalties back to the school. Mustafa the Poet, a Regent Park native who has won acclaim for his poetry since age 12, gave the tracks their names.
It was Dukes who shared the piece with Swift. Her decision to buy the sample and use it in her song means that every sale, stream or sample of her album will bring royalties to the school.
That’s no small thing, given that Swift’s new album, which was released last Friday, became the top-selling album of the year during its first day of sales.
Employees at the school knew that Swift had been eyeing their work since December, when “Parkscapes” was recorded, the school’s executive director Richard Marsella told HuffPost Canada. But they didn’t know if it would actually happen — they didn’t even know which track she was looking at.
“There have been rumblings for months that we’ve been keeping quiet, because we’re this little community music school,” Marsella said.
“It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” the song that samples the school’s composition, seems to be about a couple who first met as kids at school, with lyrics about sidewalk chalk and video games. The words are simple and innocent; the music is whimsical and almost melancholy. Billboard called it “the most captivating song on ‘Lover.’”
Thematically, the song was a great choice to incorporate the school’s composition, Marsella said. “She couldn’t have written a more apropos tune to give to our kids and our organization as a beautiful gift to us,” he said. Hearing the song for the first time was a “beautiful revelation,” he added.
Beyond the obvious benefit to the school and the community, it means a lot to the 14 students featured on the song, Marsella said. “They’re going to be reflecting on it, and putting it on their resumes, and remembering it for the rest of their lives.”
Dukes seems to also be encouraging other artists to take note of the Parkscapes library. “The album is comprised of a series of sparse, melancholic compositions that are ripe for use by contemporary music producers and artists,” Dukes said in a press release.
Marsella, for his part, added that the second volume of “Parkscapes” will likely be out this fall.
He also readily admits that he didn’t know too much about Swift’s music before this past week. “I’ll go on record saying I wasn’t the hugest fan. I just didn’t know enough about her work,” he said. “But I really admire her now, as a role model, as an artist who takes this very seriously and does everything with thought.
“If you have that power and you’re using it for good, hats off to you. I want to be on your team. I’m a Swiftie now.”