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At a high school, the song 'No One is Alone' becomes about a teacher lost to COVID

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Nearly 1 million people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. NPR has been remembering some of those who died through the music that gave their lives meaning. We called these tributes Songs of Remembrance.

Today, English teacher Bobby Texel remembers his coworker Dennis DeCarlo, a woodshop teacher at Pompton Lakes High School in New Jersey. Dennis and Bobby worked together for years on the school's musical productions.

BOBBY TEXEL: Dennis would get very creative in the sets he would construct. He would use wood when he could, but he would use foam core as well. And he was always very particular. He always textured the sets and brought special aspects to them. Sometimes he'd put little jokes in that only he and the students knew about.

I think the most telling thing about Dennis as a teacher, though, was the fact that many students openly called him Dad, and he really embodied that not just for the students, but for us at school. There'd be many times when I'd walk into Dennis' room, you know, with a sort of anxiety about the show or an interaction or a lesson that went wrong, and I would come out with a smile or a laugh. And I would just feel better after interacting with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENNY ANDERSSON'S "THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC")

TEXEL: Before the pandemic, we were almost ready to go on our production of "Mamma Mia," and my last memory of Dennis was meeting him to discuss pushing back the musical by a couple weeks and having him reassure me that everything was - would be OK and that, you know, the show must go on. And we walked out, and then that was it. That was the last time I saw him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (As Cinderella, singing) Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood.

TEXEL: He fell ill pretty quickly. And, you know, eventually things got worse, and he passed away. And that was not easy, and I still miss him dearly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (As Cinderella, singing) Mother isn't here now.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (As the Baker, singing) Wrong things, right things.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (As Cinderella, singing) Who knows what she'd say?

TEXEL: So then the next year came around, and I was very scared about doing the musical. It got to the point where I felt like I didn't want to do it. I was wondering if we could have a year off, you know, 'cause it was just so nerve-wracking. But my co-director said, would you do it if we did "Into The Woods"? And he knew that that was my favorite show, and I couldn't say no to that. And we dedicated it to his memory. We put his picture in the program, and that felt good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1 AND #2: (As Cinderella and the Baker, singing) But you are not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (As Cinderella, singing) Believe me, no one is alone.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (As the Baker, singing) No one is alone, believe me.

TEXEL: "No One Is Alone" is the second to last song in the entire show. It's sung by four characters - the Baker, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack - and each of them have lost somebody. And together, all four characters weave this idea that even though you might feel alone, you aren't alone. Someone is on your side. No one is alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1 AND #2: (As Cinderella and the Baker, singing) Someone is on your side.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #3 AND #4: (As Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, singing) Our side.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (As the Baker, singing) Our side.

TEXEL: Dennis was our someone. And, you know, we certainly felt alone after he was gone, but the beauty of "Into The Woods," the beauty of "No One Is Alone" got me through. And I hope that it got others through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1 AND #2: (As Cinderella and the Baker, singing) Someone is on your side. No one is alone.

FLORIDO: That was Bobby Texel speaking about his coworker and friend Dennis DeCarlo, who died from COVID on May 3, 2020. You can visit our tribute, NPR's Songs of Remembrance, at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM SONG "NO ONE IS ALONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.