“This is super weird; all my teachers have grown out a beard.” With this line—one that has likely crossed the minds of many students during their first Zoom classes—Henry Owens (11) launched into the chorus of “HM Online,” a musical parody of “Mama Mia” by ABBA. Humorous, sentimental, and relatable, it is an apt tune for the school’s new virtual format.
“HM Online” was Owens’ entry to the HM Online Olympics, he said. Adam Frommer (11) and Yana Gitelman (11) kicked off the competition over spring break to keep up the school spirit, since the school will not meet on campus for the rest of the academic year due to the spread of COVID-19. “The larger community things and random silly things that [the school does] are missing with online school, so we wanted to throw some of that in there,” Gitelman said.
Every day, Frommer and Gitelman send a riddle, puzzle, or creative challenge that Upper Division students can participate in to earn points for their grade. Days four and five of the HM Online Olympics asked students to rewrite the school’s alma mater and craft an accompanying music video. Owens tackled both challenges with “HM Online.”
In his one minute and 57 second song, Owens jokes about seeing his teachers’ living rooms, reminisces about physical school, and gives Zoom a shout-out. “We have an alma mater for Horace Mann, so I was like ‘We’re going to a new school, HM Online.’ I wanted to make a song for that,” he said.
As the credits at the end of “HM Online” show, Owens wrote, performed, filmed, and edited the video himself. He began by finding a song to parody. “I racked my brain for all my favorite songs that had the right number of syllables, and then I thought HM Online, Mama Mia, that could totally work,” he said.
From there, Owens replaced the original lyrics of “Mama Mia” with his own. The words came easily, he said. “It was fun, and I was thinking of goofy rhymes trying to imagine what HM Online would be like.”
After the lyrics were completed, Owens recorded the audio and filmed his performance. “I used to be a video-editing nerd, which I still kind of am, so I happen to have a green screen lying around,” he said. Three to four rehearsals later, he shot the video in front of the green screen in one take.
Next, Owens edited the video and added animations, including the freeze and blackout that accompanies his quip on slow WiFi. The whole process took six to seven hours, he said.
Owens’ experience with acting and musical theater shone through with his on-point facial expressions, steady vocals, and dashes of choreography. “I really enjoy performing, and I haven’t gotten to perform much lately because I’ve been quarantined inside my house,” he said. “I thought this was a fun opportunity to do some singing and share it with people.”
Although Owens does not know if he won the HM Online Olympics challenge, “HM Online” has won the hearts and laughter of many in the school, including Dr. Jessica Levenstein and Dr. Tom Kelly. “Dr. Levenstein was the first one to email me…
Dr. Kelly also saw it, and he made a comment, and I was like ‘This is amazing,’” he said.
Owens showed “HM Online” to his friends and then posted it to his Instagram account, where the video racked up over a hundred comments. “I was really surprised; I thought it’d be a fun video, [and] I thought people would enjoy it,” he said. “I didn’t realize they would send it around so much.”
Sogona Cisse (11) watched the video on Instagram and appreciated how “HM students can still have lighthearted moments during this new and uncertain time,” she said.
“I love when he wrote that school isn’t just ‘mortar and brick,’ there’s more to it than that… because it’s all about the community,” AJ Walker (10) said.
Owens and Dylan Chin (12), co-Presidents of the Horace Mann Theater Company, came up with the Horace Mann Variety Show to “bring some joy to the school,” Owens said. On April 18, students and faculty will showcase their talents on Zoom. “We wanted to give [people] an opportunity to put on performances if they feel very cooped up right now,” he said.
Owens himself has not worked on any other large creative projects, but the success of “HM Online” inspired him to try more. “If I just give a day to doing a fun project, then I really can accomplish something cool,” he said.