Recently, more than 100 members of Pickerington's two high school marching bands came together -- virtually -- to conclude their music education for the 2019-20 school year and add to the sense of togetherness in the community.

On May 14, Gov. Mike DeWine closed his press conference with a decidedly Pickerington flavor.

"It seems today, when we honor fallen police officers, (state) Rep. (Andy) Thompson, members of our military, as well as my friend, Dwight Radcliff, that we play a video of the combined Pickerington North and Pickerington Central high school marching bands in a virtual performance of their traditional music warmup," DeWine said.

At that point, a YouTube video of "Amazing Grace" being played by 140 students representing both Pickerington high schools was shown.

In broadcasting the video, DeWine sought to honor fallen police officers, military personnel and Thompson, 57, a former Republican state representative from Marietta who died May 13, as well as Radcliff, 87, a former Pickaway County sheriff who died May 6.

Although it was a remembrance of lives lost, the occasion was an opportunity to shine light on a collaborative effort by the two bands.

The project originated with Pickerington Schools music coordinator Marc Parulekar, Central band director Nate Stowe and North band director Greg Benson, who saw it as a chance to teach students different ways to record music and perform.

Additionally, Parulekar said, it was an opportunity to bring the community together.

"Even though we cannot be together physically, it is very important for our students to continue to collaborate and share their love of music with our community," Parulekar said. "When the 'brick-and-mortar' school year was suspended in March, our team wanted to find ways to create performance experiences for our students."

Each student recorded his or her part individually using school-issued computers or a personal electronic device.

Parulekar said students recorded their parts to a "click track," in essence a metronome that the performer can hear via headphones, using the Acapella Application and submitted their video.

All of the videos were combined using iMovie to produce the final product, one video that is about 1 minute and 30 seconds long.

"The 'Amazing Grace' project was a voluntary assignment for all of our high school band students," Parulekar said. "We posted the music, recording instructions and sample of our band director team performing in the student's Google Classroom."

North senior Adrienne Ward, who plays the clarinet, was among those featured in the video.

She said since "Amazing Grace" is a tradition for her school's band program, she didn't have to learn any new music, but she did learn to use technology "in a way that allows me to collaborate and make music with others when we can't meet in person, which is something I've never done before."

"Being a part of the 'Amazing Grace' video was really fun and a great learning experience," Ward said. "The end product was very inspiring.

"This project has helped me understand that recording music can be just as impactful and inspiring as performing live."

Central senior Kate Merkel played alto saxophone in the video. She said the new way of performing and putting together the project was daunting initially, in part because she knew how talented her peers are in music.

"I just remember thinking that I was going to be the one to mess up my recording and make everything not fit right," Merkel said. "Once Mr. Benson sent out the tutorials and information about the equipment, though, I got this feeling like this is going to be really awesome."

Merkel said she was impressed seeing the final product and associates "Amazing Grace" "with all the really emotional parts of my band experience."

"There were definitely a few tears shed," she said. "But in this strange COVID time, I think we all really needed that, and I had an amazing time being part of it."

"Amazing Grace" is steeped in the traditions of both Pickerington high school bands, as well as that of the former Pickerington High School.

According to Parulekar, the Pickerington High School band first performed the arrangement in 1990, and it's still performed by the combined Central and North bands at football games, band competitions and community events.

"They were also selected to perform together during the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California," Parulekar said.

"The Pickerington band programs are an integral part of our community. We believe that music is a uniting force and is needed now, more than ever."