Photographer Peter Ralston once explained his process for shooting the perfect subject. Loosely paraphrasing a statement he made in a short documentary Peter's Eye shown at last year's Camden International Film Festival, he said: “I don’t always know what I’m searching for when I go out with my camera, but when I see it, I just know.”
That’s pretty much how I discovered 17-year-old Aidan Kaczynski and 16-year-old Louisa Klemperer, both from Camden. I was sitting in the Strom Theater with a handful of parents and teachers watching some of the live performances during Fine Arts Night last May. By the time I got my camera out and switched to video, I’d only been able to catch a snippet of Aidan and Louisa’s duet, Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind from the play Spring Awakening.
Since then, I have probably played the video of their song about 30 times. It rocks that much. Play it, you’ll see. After that, I had to find out who they were.
I have probably played the video of their song about 30 times. It rocks that much.
On a sunny summer morning, we are all sitting in the amphitheatre in Camden with coffees, getting to know one another. It doesn’t take long for us all to click. Once we’ve gotten past their Christopher Walken and Count Dracula impressions, it’s time for Aidan and Louisa to get serious. About squirrels.
Aidan: “Louisa, have you ever caught a squirrel with your bare hands?”
Louisa: “No, can’t say that I have. But sometimes I sit in my backyard and say, “Yo — where the squirrels at?”
Louisa: “Aidan, have you ever climbed a stone wall and tried to fly?”
Aidan: “Before I’ve climbed the wall or after?”
Louisa: “No, what I mean is... okay so, like you’re on top of the squirrel —" She corrects herself: “The wall I mean….”
Aidan interrupts, indignant: “I have never been on top of a squirrel. Not on my life, ma’am. Do not accuse me of this puffery.”
And just like that, the two friends riff off each other with the same harmony that makes them sound so good on stage together. Eventually, we move on to the serious questions; for example, why they chose this particular song to sing.
“I picked that song for Fine Arts Night because my mom had taken me to see the play Spring Awakening a couple of years ago,” said Louisa. “Aidan and I had already sung together in Phantom of The Opera and I really like singing with Aidan, so when that song came up in my iTunes, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ And my mom was like ‘Oh My God,’ you should do this with Aidan. And I was like ‘Oh my God,’ what a good idea.”
Aidan interjects: “Oh my God!”
“Should I say that one more time?” Louisa laughs. “Oh my God.”
The song itself is interesting once you know the back story. This isn’t just some narcoleptic high school musical you’re forced to attend with your parents and Great Aunt Doo Doo. It comes from rock musical adaptation of a controversial 1892 German play, which was actually banned in Germany for some time due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. In this song, Aidan sings the Don’t Do Sadness refrain as a character on the brink of suicide and Louisa sings the Blue Wind refrain as a childhood friend trying to get him to reminisce about the good memories they shared.
They both feel comfortable enough with each other to reveal their own connections to the song.
“It was just another song at first,” Aidan said. “The first couple of times I sang it, I didn’t know what it was about. But the more I practiced it, the more I got it. What it’s really about is not letting sadness hang you down. I’d been really mopey at the time we practiced this, sitting by myself in an alcove to play guitar everyday. There were some personal things that had been getting me down. That’s when I really heard the song. Reading the words, singing the words, I was like ‘My God, this is what I need to do.’ Just forget all of this sadness. I was shaking inside when I was singing it, because I finally understood I had control over keeping the sadness away.”
Louisa added: “How I connected with it was similar to stuff Aidan had been going through. You know, we both recently had break-ups, but that wasn’t the big deal. Everybody has skeletons in their closet, but I’d always pushed mine aside. I remember hearing this song and feeling distraught, because I’d never dealt with what was in my past that was making me feel a certain way and how I was viewing the world. Yet this character Ilse, who sings the song, was in such a worse place than I and she was still able to see the beauty in the world. So, it made me want to be able to be the same.”
Aidan, who is self-taught, started playing acoustic guitar when he was 12 or 13 and has expanded his skills to also play electric bass, as well as strengthen his vocals. He regularly uses social media like YouTube, Facebook and SoundCloud to post new material and build a platform. He wants to be a singer-songwriter and performed on the local radio station WRFR in June. Louisa started playing piano at five and learned to read music. She took voice lessons and more piano lessons from well-known pianist Glenn Jenks and has steadily done musicals since middle school. Her goal, once she graduates, is to move to New York City to work in theater and opera.
They soar like a couple of Golden Eagles retrofitted with Audubon radio tracking devices, swooping in on one another’s vocal thermals.
The confidence in their projection as a duo comes from a trust they’ve built from working together.
“When we perform together, we feed off each other’s strength,” Louisa said. “In Phantom of the Opera, there was never a moment where I was worried if Aidan was going to be able to carry his part. If I were singing with someone who wasn’t as strong, then I’d hold back because I wouldn’t want to overshadow him.”
“Yeah, “ Aidan agreed, “honestly I haven’t been able to understand it until she just put it in words, but when I’m singing with someone who is timid, I don’t want to showboat. But she and I were similar and when you have confidence in the other singer, it actually boosts your own confidence.”
All I can say is together, these two soar. They soar like a couple of Golden Eagles retrofitted with Audubon radio tracking devices, swooping in on one another’s vocal thermals. I don’t know if Audubon actually does this with eagles. But I know I could not force one more metaphor of squirrels into this story.
Stay tuned as we continue to follow Aidan and Louisa on their musical journey this fall.
Hail To The Rad Kids is a new feature highlighting teens with artistic or musical talent. Another place to check out what the kids are up to is Sound Off, a monthly feature sponsored by Five Town Communities That Care to publicly recognize the contributions that middle and high school teens are making in our community.