It’s an interesting thing about the Internet: so many millions of people take to it daily and post videos on sites like YouTube in an attempt to have their talents noticed or maybe just show their friends what they’re doing with their spare time.
They post videos of themselves singing, or maybe even animals doing tricks, babies making funny faces or singing their orders through the drive through of a fast food restaurant. Is this stuff art? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it a silly waste of time? Depends on your point of view.
Personally, I appreciate the Internet because it allows average people to show their creativity trough means not available to previous generations. I mean, who knows how many people had something of value to offer the world if they just had a medium through which they could display it. How many greats went unnoticed?
Which brings me back, as always, to Oxford, Conn., where three young students are taking to the World Wide Web on a regular basis to express their feelings about the many thoughts that go through a teenager’s mind: thoughts about morphing into adulthood, thinking about leaving their hometowns and their friends in a few months, and even their emotions about the state of our country.
Austen Braatz, Greg Spear and Nick Ritch don’t pretend to be great singers: they just like to write hip hop and some rap music for fun, and sometimes they write something that catches on. They often post their videos on YouTube and share them with friends.
All of it is in good fun and the songs have not been too serious. Except one.
In the fall, they decided to write a song about the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
This past Sept. 10, the duo was discussing how terrible it was that first responders into the World Trade Center were not invited to a 10th anniversary ceremony in New York City. The Oxford students wanted to do their small part to recognize first responders in the only way they knew how: through music.
The next day, the duo created a song titled “Our Heroes: A tribute to all of the heroes who dedicated themselves on Sept. 11, 2001.” The sang lyrics such as… “In our hearts you will always be a hero in the eyes of every kid, so thank you...for everything you did.” And “Save all these lives, losing husbands, losing wives…these are the heroes that you need to respect.”
They put hip-hop music behind the singing and a few weeks later, when asked to write about 9/11 in class, they decided to create a unique type of project. They made a video out of the song, using graphic images and videos from that tragic day that are forever embedded into our collective memories. Their teacher loved it, and so did many others in the school and community.
“The response was overwhelming,” Braatz explained.
“Teachers and parents in the community were talking about the video, and we’ve been told they want to display it at a 9/11 ceremony at school next year,” Spear said.
Braatz and Spear, who have been close friends for several years, said their YouTube page shows about 111 views on that video (which is attached to this article), but they believe many more people have seen it - they believe groups of people have watched it together.
A parent who is involved in many community events sent a link of the video to Oxford Patch stating simply, "It’s just an amazing job.”
When I met with Braatz and Spear, Braatz explained: “We just wanted to remember our first responders because they are indeed heroes."
“They weren’t allowed to the ceremony, but they gladly showed up to protect our freedom,” Spear added. "And that's exactly what I said in the song."
The duo works on videos on a regular basis in a makeshift, but nice, studio in the basement of their mutual friend Nick Ritch’s house in Oxford. Ritch’s father gave up his home office so his son and his friends could have a place to work on their craft and build the small production studio they call “Purple Ape Productions.” The purple ape idea came from a ceramic purple ape that Ritch made in a ceramics class on a whim.
Clearly, the three teens don’t take themselves too seriously, which is refreshing. They have no delusions that their music will be in the Top 40 or that they will get a record deal anytime soon (though if anyone out there is offering, I have their contact info.).
These guys strike me as a group of nice, laid back young men – all three want to attend college and some say they may consider taking up audio or music production; Braatz wants to study marine biology. For now, they just want to have fun and show off their creative sides.
The three men volunteer in the community. In fact, Spear is an explorer in the Oxford Ambulance Association while Braatz is a member of Oxford’s junior fire department, an organization which he said has “brought me a long way.”
These are not teens who are in the National Honor Society, stars on athletic teams or the lead roles of the local musical. They are, however, good guys who have something to offer society.
They were in second grade in the year of the nation’s worst terrorist attack. And yet, 10 years later, they care enough to respect and honor those who helped with the rescue and recovery efforts and, thanks to YouTube, they found a way to share their creative tribute.
To me, that is of value to society. And for that, I am thankful for the opportunities the Internet offers and for the people, like these three Oxford teens, who use it to create something positive.