With a song originally written a year and a half ago, Deerfield singer-songwriter Todd Kessler seemingly presciently addresses the challenges of today in his uplifting new single and video, “Holding On.”
It speaks to that sense of isolation and loss many of us are feeling during the pandemic and the holidays.
But it speaks through hope.
“There’s definitely ups and downs,” Kessler said. “You don’t necessarily realize in the day-to-day how it’s affecting you. And then you watch something or some memory pops up from last holiday season, and you realize how messed up it all is. We’re going to be unpacking a lot of stuff for years to come.”
Kessler, who grew up in Northbrook and graduated from Glenbrook North High School, releases the single Friday with a video preview Thursday. And while it seems to be so clearly about the human condition during this public health crisis, he said it’s actually a product of a collaboration with fellow musician and Naperville native Kevin Andrew Prchal that started in early 2019.
After a few months of writing together, the pair stepped away to clear their minds with plans to come back to the song fresh. But when COVID-19 hit the U.S., the song slid into the background until Prchal suggested revisiting it in August 2020.
“We realized in the process of finishing it in quarantine, the lyrics took on this whole new meaning,” Kessler said. “This idea was basically ‘in the tough times we’ve got to stick together.’ … But then when we revisited it while we couldn’t be together physically, it just kind of became, ‘Wow, this is so of this moment,’ which was also part of the reason why we felt such a fire to really finish it in this moment. It just felt so apropos to what we’re all dealing with.”
With a few tweaks and additions — Kessler recruited his wife and 5- and 7-year-old children for some quarantine-recorded gang vocals in what he called “the funniest recording session I’ve ever had” — the single was ready for release.
The joyful song emphasizes positivity over everything with its smooth vocals and cheery melody, but the companion video lifts the song’s message with even more outspread wings.
As Kessler sings and plays his guitar over a Zoom broadcast, clips of family, friends and fans reacting to the song swirl around him. Folks celebrating their togetherness in the midst of all this social separation. Adults singing along, youngsters dancing to the lighthearted beats. It’s a festive salute to hope, to driving out the trauma of our socially distanced lives.
“Even though we are so connected in some ways, there is a disconnect in others,” he said. “The one thing I want for this song and this video is just to help everyone remember even though this is so hard for everyone in different ways, there are still moments of joy that are happening. … Even though we can’t be together physically, there are so many ways to connect.”
Created by Oak Park native Dianne Nora, the video includes clips of collaborator Prchal on guitar, Zachary Goforth (who plays bass with both artists) and Bob Parlier on drums (while the recorded single features Sound Summit’s Charlie Dresser). ASL Interpreter Sarah Grasso and Cued Speech Transliterator Kellie Schier also appear in portions of the video. Kessler worked with his friend Benjamin Lachman on a fully accessible version of the video featuring Grasso and Schier through its entirety.
With live performance opportunities running dry during Illinois’ lockdowns, Kessler said he has found some success in commercial ventures with an ad campaign for Rx Bars and a few tracks picked up by national publishers. And he and Prchal have another song in the works, aiming for an early 2021 release.
The two artists are hosting a virtual viewing party to celebrate the release at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, on Facebook. The single will be for sale and streaming on major platforms Friday, Dec. 18, so we can all get a dose of hope, something sorely lacking right now, to carry us through.