Reflections on the Lower School Winter Concert
The theme of our 2019 Class III-V Winter Concert was "We Shall Walk in the Snow." This line was a lyric from one of our songs, and most of the music in our program referenced walking in one way or another. But it turns out many of the songs also originated from people who belong to ethnic or religious minorities. These are people who have often experienced violence, oppression, occupation, and other forms of persecution. Our songs included an African-American Spiritual, folk songs from Islamic Bashkirs and Tatars, an Indian celebration of Diwali, and two Jewish songs.
I loved all of our songs, but our Jewish songs held special significance for me because they came out of conversations with Akiva Toren. This is my first year at Waterford, and I met Akiva at one of our first faculty events before the school year began. As we became acquainted, he shared that he spent his early childhood in Israel before moving to the United States. I was looking for music that represented authentic expressions from a lot of different people, and I asked Akiva if he would tell me some songs that have been sung at significant events in his life. He was kind enough to oblige, and I programmed two of the songs he shared with me. Our concert included lots of fun and diverse music, it felt like a success, and we began winter break with the sounds of our songs lingering in my ears.
In the midst of all of my joyous family celebrations during the break, I also felt inundated with heartbreaking news. Over and over I heard of a continuing rise in violence against minorities and a crushing number of antisemitic attacks. It was hard for me to avoid a sense of despair about the world we live in.
Returning to school, one of the activities I planned was a reflection exercise with several of my classes about their experience in preparing and performing the Winter Concert. The exercise began with a sentence starter, "My favorite thing about our performance was…,” and the students continued by writing about whatever they would choose. They gave many meaningful responses including,
Students also mentioned several specific songs including Rise Up Shepherd, Diwali is Here, Sevivon, Gloucestershire Wassail, and The Little Birch Tree. But by far (I would say 90% or more), the most frequently mentioned "favorite part of the concert" was Kol Ha'olam Kulo. This was one of the songs suggested by Akiva Toren, and it was our concert finale.
Kol Ha’olam Kulo is an incredibly fun and catchy song, and I have to point out the beautiful work of Scott King on piano, Scott Harris on klezmer clarinet, and Igor Iachimcuic on cembalom in making the performance effective. But the kicker was the enthusiasm of the students in delivering this wonderful, simple text (both in Hebrew and in English) with such enthusiasm:
"The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all."
On that particular song, their singing practically shook the walls. I wasn't surprised to read it had been their favorite.
The students' writings called to mind a quote from Leonard Bernstein in 1963. He was asked what artists could do in the face of events such as the assassination of JFK. He replied, "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
And this brought me back to thinking about how to maintain hope in the face of complex problems and even tragedy. For myself, I find hope in my own family, in art and in music, in honest intellectual and spiritual pursuits, and in building connections with other people. And I find hope in our students. Their curiosity leads them to an easy willingness to seek to understand people who have experiences different from their own, and our school's mission encompasses learning as an inherently moral pursuit. We are here to support families in their desire to raise children who can make the world a better place. And I believe they can do it.
"The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge."
Narrow bridges are potentially both difficult and dangerous. It's possible to be shaken or blown off. It’s possible to lean too far in any direction and fall off. But bridges also go somewhere, and they connect people and places that are otherwise divided.
"But the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all."
In spite of the danger and difficulty, we set aside our fears and we walk. We keep growing. We keep learning. We try to make a difference. We walk together. We walk in hope.