A Boston Conservatory Student Delivers What the World Needs Now: Love

Boston Conservatory student Shelbie Rassler (B.M. '20, composition) produced and edited her arrangement of “What the World Needs Now” for virtual orchestra, becoming a viral internet sensation in the age of social distancing.

March 26, 2020


On March 14, Boston Conservatory at Berklee composition student Shelbie Rassler (B.M. '20) posted a call to her artist network on her Facebook page: “let's do a thing!” Just over a week later, that “thing” would become a viral sensation making global headlines—from Good Morning America to NPR.

Rassler, among the scores of college students abruptly uprooted from campus life in the wake of COVID-19, produced and edited her arrangement of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 1965 hit “What the World Needs Now Is Love” for virtual orchestra, featuring 75 students, alumni, faculty, and staff from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Berklee College of Music.

“I was absolutely devastated I was leaving the Boston Conservatory community,” she says. “I immediately began brainstorming ideas that would bring the community together in a collaborative effort, even when we couldn’t physically be together.”

The idea came to her during her flight home to Florida, and, the next day, she wrote the arrangement. She then turned to social media to solicit performers. “A few days later, I had about 100 videos from people all around the world—about 90 percent of which are from the Boston Conservatory and wider Berklee community—singing, playing instruments, and dancing along to the tracks and sheet music I sent out.”

Not only did the piece bring together students at Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music for some much-needed creative connection, with more than a million views on YouTube and worldwide media coverage, it proved to be just what the rest of the world needed, too. Even Bacharach himself was moved by the piece, telling NPR that he was "very proud and honored to see and hear my song performed by these extremely talented students….It's great seeing them find ways to be creative and stay connected to each other while maintaining social distance." Celebrated journalist Katie Couric also caught wind of the video, and shared it on her social media channels.

Beyond the emotional power of its message, “What the World Needs Now” for Virtual Orchestra has become a practical blueprint for what performance and artistic collaboration looks like in the age of social distancing. Those eager to employ similar technology for virtual performances, classrooms, and workplaces—from elementary school teachers to lawyers—posted questions on Rassler’s YouTube page asking about the logistics behind assembling a virtual orchestra and the software used.


Also passionate about film scoring, Rassler recently composed music for the short film Titan, which won the Grand Jury Award at CampusMovie Fest and qualified for the Terminus Film Festival in Atlanta and 2020 Cannes Film Festival. She also scored a Lexus commercial and a documentary for the STEM and PBS in addition to working with renowned orchestras  internationally.

Rassler’s Berklee training prepared her well for such versatility. In 2016, she participated Boston Conservatory at Berklee High School Composition Intensive, a two-week program of rigorous music composition, workshopping, and recording, and she also completed courses through Berklee Online, a leading school for online music education.

Although her final semester at Boston Conservatory took an unexpected turn, Rassler, a 2019 Presser Foundation scholar, reflects on the unique community of artists that helped make this video possible: “my favorite thing about Boston Conservatory is the cross-disciplinary collaboration that happens between the Theater, Music, and Dance divisions, which greatly informed the creation of this video,” she says, adding that she is deeply gratified by “the comments from people all around the world saying that the video has provided them comfort and hope during this scary time.”

Learn more about Rassler, hear samples of her work, and explore Boston Conservatory’s acclaimed composition programs.