FableFive: Leah Garofalo- combining arts and science with a musical flair

Leah Garofalo always approached high school projects with an ambitious sense of creativity. For a ninth grade biology assignment at Monticello High School, she wrote, performed and produced an original song about taxonomy. Years later, The FableVision Learning Team asked her some questions to discover more about the creative process that turned this complicated science topic into music.

1) Can you share a bit about yourself and your school? 

At the time I was a tiny 13 year old coming from a middle school where I knew every student and every teacher, heading into the newest, shiniest high school in the county. I was a band geek and that would prove to be my in with new friends and multiple assignments throughout my high school career. 

My song writing career didn’t follow me to college, although being a band geek did. I went on to major in mechanical engineering and currently work for a financial firm in Fairfax, Va.  

2) What was the inspiration for the Taxonomy song?

Sister Ruby, soundmixer Joe, and Leah Garofalo when the Taxonomy song was being recorded. 

Sister Ruby, soundmixer Joe, and Leah Garofalo when the Taxonomy song was being recorded. 

I wish I could remember the exact circumstances, but I believe it was just a regular class project involving the topics at the time. Instead of doing a typical boring report or trifold science fair presentation, I decided to go all out and write a song. My dad was and still is a professor at UVA in the math-ed department. At that time I remember his main focus was (and again, really still is) creative teaching methods to get students more engaged. Coming up with intricate powerpoint presentations, games, and videos was always my go-to for class projects. 

It was a no-brainer once we were given free rein on the assignment about a biology topic of our choice that it would be some sort of audio or visual presentation. 

3) How did you craft the lyrics? I noticed you have a backup singer, can you share a bit about the collaboration?  

Leah Garofalo and her sister/backup singer Ruby

Leah Garofalo and her sister/backup singer Ruby

I knew I would have to give some background information on the scientist as well as a rundown of the classification scheme, complete with an example. If I can recall correctly, "Yellow Submarine" was chosen pretty early on in the lyric writing process, not only because I was raised on classic rock, but because I said to myself, “Ok, this guy (Linnaeus) was born in the town of Uppsala” and immediately thought wow that’s just like “in the town where I was born.” And soon the rest of the song started flowing.  

My backup singer is my little sister who was 7 at the time. Best collaborator ever.

4) What is next? 

What came next, still in 9th grade, was a music video with my friend Cydney for our world history class. It was a 6 minute song comprised of "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice followed by "Girls" by the Beastie Boys. Not only did we play and record the music, but we again rewrote the lyrics to both songs to give a brief history of the world. The video was us singing along to our recording and dancing in my dad’s office with my sister making a cameo in it as well. 

In 12th grade, as a final project in calculus, some friends and I wrote a song called "Werewolves of Blundin" about our teacher to the tune of "Werewolves of London." He was nice enough to accept the work even though the amount of math included was really only for rhyming purposes. 

A parody of the Warren Zevon song, Werewolves of London. This uses the famous UVA quarterback, Matt Brent Blundin as its protagonist. He is a werewolf in two ways, first, he thirsts for blood and he's a calculus teacher, second he is a two-sport athlete, basketball and football.

5) Tell us about you now? How did your creative upbringing influence your career path? 

Unfortunately as a financial professional, I don’t have many opportunities to create songs or music videos anymore. However, I do think that by doing projects such as these and countless other intricate PowerPoints and interactive presentations has helped me become someone who thinks out of the box. I am able to approach problems and situations them in a much different manner than providing just traditional solutions. I certainly credit my upbringing and desire to be different to most of my successes.

Are you or someone you know, a student or educator making their mark in a creative way? Contact Andrea Calvin, andrea@fablevision.com, to be featured in a FableFive.