LOWELL — Pink Floyd’s classic album “Dark Side of the Moon” is loved the world over.
Now so is a recording/performance of the album by 15 UMass Lowell students under the direction of music professor Alan Williams.
The UML students were born a quarter century after the 1973 album was released. Outside of comments from their dads, few knew much about the 10-song concept album which explores mental illness, death and greed.
But that didn’t prevent the students from delivering a stunning and heartfelt performance of “Dark Side of the Moon.”
The project was recorded over a three-day period, Nov. 13-15, at a North Chelmsford recording studio. The students performed in staggered shifts in order to stay 6 feet apart due to the pandemic. After editing, the project, the culmination of the fall semester course, was ready in early December.
“I think it sounds great, it looks great,” said Kamryn Richard, a junior vocalist from Townsend who was one of three students to recreate Clare Torry’s towering vocal performance on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
“People all over are connected to our performance. Sometimes it can be hard to find joy right now,” she said.
Another vocalist who sang on “The Great Gig in the Sky,” Mia Farwell, could hardly contain her joy when she watched the final product during a virtual watching party.
“I got so excited. I was literally jumping up and down. When we recorded it, we knew it had the potential to be amazing. I was overjoyed with it,” said Farwell, a junior from Scituate. “There were moments where I was flying in a cloud.”
Many of the comments on YouTube regarding the performance center on “The Great Gig in the Sky,” as viewers rave about the wordless, emotional singing of Richard, Farwell and Kaitlin Whiteman.
Billerica native Matthew Twombly, a junior bassist, posted a video of the students re-creating “Dark Side of the Moon” on YouTube. Then it went global.
It received positive reviews in the U.S. Then it was noticed in Portugal. Then France. Then Brazil. Then the rest of the world took notice. At last glance, it had received 80,000 views on YouTube.
“I’m really proud of the students,” said Williams. “I’m not surprised by their ability to play the music. I was surprised by their ability to create something special. I had no worries they would know the chords. What I didn’t know is whether they would connect to the music, connect to each other. That’s not something you can teach.”
The recording is a revelation.
UML’s guitar players sound like David Gilmour, no easy task, while students also duplicated the music of bass player and lyricist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright.
Pink Floyd’s eighth studio release has sold an estimated 45 million copies and spent a staggering 956 weeks on the U.S. Billboard charts. “Money, “Time” and “Us and Them” were hits off the album.
The comments on YouTube included this take by a man named Ash Bowie, who wrote, “Absolutely astounding. I’ve been a fan of this legendary recording for 35 years and know every note and spoken word. These kids not only pulled it off technically, but brought out the deep well of emotions embedded within the music. This was a real pleasure to watch and brought tears to my eyes several times. Bravo!”
Many of the students were not familiar with “Dark Side of the Moon,” but they were quick to learn when Williams assigned the project. With students off campus, it meant learning the music remotely and independently.
Williams believes the fact that the album was unfamiliar to his students actually made for a more successful project. Instead of approaching the album as a museum piece, the students put their own “spin on it,” Richard said.
“Anyone can sound exactly like the record,” Twombly said.
The students dug deeper.
“I absolutely thought this was about the raw emotion,” Farwell said. “Music can be very powerful. We were different.”
Williams believed in his students.
“I’m the only one who knew what we had,” he said. “I was in a faculty meeting and I said, ‘This Pink Floyd thing is going to be pretty good.’”
Williams said all his students checked their egos at the door. A true camaraderie was created — 13 of the students performed in the studio, two from home. One student finished his role Saturday at noon. But he felt so connected he stayed for the rest of that day and returned for the final day on Sunday.
The pandemic has kept people apart. Taking on “Dark Side of the Moon” allowed the UMass Lowell musicians a chance to work as a team.
“All of a sudden, we got the opportunity to play music with other people again,” Farwell said.
In normal times, the students would have performed the album before an audience at Durgin Hall. The pandemic put an end to that. Williams said an outdoors performance this summer is a possibility.
YouTube comments have been universally positive. A member of Waters’ inner circle called Williams and raved about the effort. There are multiple Pink Floyd cover bands and no shortage of groups tackling the band’s music. But the UMass Lowell project was different.
Three people shot the video, including Williams.
“This was something beyond the carbon copy,” Williams said. “It was not a copy, it was organically alive. I wept the first time I put it together.”
You can watch the performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTFmZegkk_0