Published: July 27, 2020

Keith Highlanders chart-toppers with ‘Sound of Silence’ cover

Simon & Garfunkel hit #1 with “The Sound of Silence” in 1965, and now, 55 years later, the Keith Highlanders of Seattle are busting pipe band online records with their cover of Paul Simon’s folk-rock classic.

Formed in 1952, some of the Grade 3 Keith Highlanders would have been groovy flower children when the original came out on vinyl, and their digital rendition has achieved nearly 25,000 YouTube views and Facebook plays approaching half-a-million in only a week.

“When coronavirus started, we were locked down here in Washington State in early March,” says Pipe-Major Larry Koch. “We had been planning to debut a new performance piece for a local show in late March that was then cancelled. The piece, ‘Dollar Sunrise,’ was written by Lincoln Hilton, and the band had put a lot of time into learning the set. Since we couldn’t practice in-person, we had held a few practices over Zoom, but it wasn’t the same due to limitations in the technology. Because of Internet delay, you cannot all play together at the same time, so practices were not as effective as playing with each other in person. It seemed a shame that we couldn’t capitalize on all the practice on the new piece.”

It helps to have an accomplished video editor in the band. Video creator Tim Hutchinson was inspired by similar “Brady Bunch”-style videos put together for the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

“I thought that doing a video . . . might be good to try to give the group a shared goal and to motivate everyone to keep practicing,” Koch continues. “We had the band members all record their parts on their phones and submit the video to the band’s OneDrive folder, and then Tim took them all and brought together all the audio/video and created the final version, and we released it on Facebook and YouTube at the end of April. We had a fantastic response! It was the most popular video or post that the band had ever done. Lincoln was very complimentary on our arrangement, and we directed all requests for the original music to him, and due to the response he ended up making his music available on his website.”

It also helps to have members in the band who are accomplished with other instruments. Tim Hutchinson had been working on an arrangement of “The Sound of Silence” for a while. A total of 30 of the band’s 45 members perform on the video, as well as the group’s piping instructor, Jori Chisholm.

“The idea [was] to have players in the band video themselves at locations around the Pacific Northwest to showcase the natural beauty of the area, and to do something a little different than the previous videos. I think it has been so successful because it is a popular and recognizable tune for so many people so the audience is greater than traditional pipe music . . . and the arrangement with harmonies, other instruments, and how it builds up is great and fun to listen to.”

Other bands have staged similar video projects. The Garnock Valley School bands put together a charity piece for frontline workers, and former World Champions St. Laurence O’Toole recently put out a typically creative rendition of “The Highland Wedding” in similar framed style.

The big question: Have the Keith Highlanders heard from American songwriting legend Paul Simon?

“We have not heard from Paul Simon, although I would like to think he would enjoy it,” Koch says. “Overall, doing the videos has been a great way for the band to stay motivated to create and perform music as part of a group, if only virtually.”

 


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