The Regent Park School of Music has discovered that it’s nice to have a friend in high places — especially if that friend is named Taylor Swift.
It turns out that several of the school’s students appear on Swift’s latest album, Lover, released on Friday: specifically on the sample loop that forms the backdrop of the song “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.”
There’s a direct Toronto connection between the Nashville-based superstar and the music school: homegrown superstar producer Frank Dukes, a.k.a. Adam Feeney, who co-wrote and co-produced three numbers on Lover, including “It’s Nice to Have A Friend.”
Last December, Dukes spent three days at Regent Park recording his own compositions as performed by students for an album called Parkscapes, an initiative for his Kingswood Music sampling library. It was at the behest of close friend Rana Chatterjee, the associate director of creative agency BBDO Canada.
Licensing and publishing proceeds from the use of samples of any of the 11 Parkscapes songs go toward funding the school’s music program, and the first major artist to take advantage of this enterprise is pop phenomenon Swift, who had already sold two million copies of Lover around the world by Monday.
Not only did Swift sample the steel-pan-and-choral strains of “Summer in the South,” as the backdrop for “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” she made an additional undisclosed donation to the program on the album’s day of release.
Not surprisingly, Richard Marsella, the executive director of the Regent Park School of Music, is exhilarated by this windfall.
“It’s a game changer for us,” he told the Star during a Monday morning phone interview.
“Having an artist like Taylor Swift — capturing her imagination with this project through Frank Dukes, who helped us work on these compositions back in December of last year — the whole thing is really exciting for us and our kids, and what it represents for music in the community and in the country, really.”
Marsella said the school “had been hearing rumblings” over the past few months that Swift was contemplating sourcing the school track for a song but kept it under wraps.
“We didn’t really want to talk about it in case it jinxed; you never know at the last minute if a song gets pulled or not,” Marsella said. “We only found that it was confirmed on Friday.”
As for some of the 9- to 18-year-old students involved with the project, hearing themselves on a Taylor Swift album has proved to be the thrill of a lifetime.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Thomass, 18, who contributed xylophone to the track.
Thomass had received an email from Marsella mentioning the potential of being on the album.
“When I saw it, I got so excited. I never thought that one of the compositions could be used by such a big artist. It was amazing and incredible. As soon as I found out we could talk about it, I started telling all my friends and they were really excited. I thought it was an amazing project to become a part of.”
For Mywini, 17, who played guitar on “Summer in the South,” it’s an opportunity to bring some well-deserved attention to the Regent Park music program.
“Not only did we work on a first-rate project that was a really good thing for the community and the school, but Taylor Swift’s name will make it even bigger,” he said.
Marsella says his students will continue throughout the school year to participate in projects like Parkscapes.
“That’s our sustainability model now,” Marsella said, adding that the School of Music is a registered charity dependent on fundraising to subsidize its program.
“Every year we have to raise $2 million to give 1,000 kids music education at a highly subsidized rate. We have 80 faculty that we pay and we buy the instruments for our kids. We pay for the Royal Conservatory exams for our kids. Our costs are real.
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“So someone like Taylor Swift coming in and really believing in what we’re doing sets an example for what community music and community building can look like.
“That’s the inspiring thing to me; she’s leading by example.”
And Swift’s contribution didn’t end with the album track: she’s been spreading the word about Regent Park in promotional interviews.
“She’s talking about it all over the place and talking about our school, which is really cool, right?” Marsella said.
“We keep saying thank you.”