Posts Tagged ‘Lexington High School’

Last night, Ben and I went to Lexington High School for a presentation of “Songs of Ourselves:  A Celebration of Diversity”, the culmination of a unique poetry and music project.  Our friend, the talented poet and performance artist Regie O’Hare Gibson, had run the project,  along with his colleague, Robert Rivera – a gifted cellist and composer.  The two worked with freshmen at the high school on writing poetry and presenting it with music, both written and improvised.  Twenty-five pieces were presented in the 1.5-hour presentation, and a jazz combo and a classical ensemble were on stage to add live music to the performance.  The poems were read by Regie and two students.

The excellence of the writing was smashing, and the music was perfectly suited to the poems being read.  The student readers, rehearsed by Gibson, were also excellent, and all the people on stage were clearly excited by the work that had gone into the presentation, which was recorded by the local cable television station for rebroadcast.

What completely jazzed me (pun intended) were the topics presented through the writing:  memories of childhood and middle school, the importance of Starbucks (and its competition with Peets Coffee, the other major caffeine dispensary in Lexington center), elderly relatives and neighbors, visiting foreign countries, being in nature, what it’s like to live in a town like Lexington.  The whole program showed us what it’s like to be a teen today in this typical American town.  And it also showed us just how talented these teens are, guided by their teachers and Gibson.

Rivera’s work with the student musicians was equally impressive.  They offered music that enhanced each piece, and for the last piece, which Gibson had written from snippets of many of the poems the students had produced, all the musicians improvised with style and sensitivity.

I love what the poetry unit at the high school does.  My own daughter, Abby, wrote some amazing pieces during her poetry classes, including this one:

My friends and I
run along the grass
towards the rocky shore
We speak of the things
that happened that day:
all the excitements
and fun,
the games we had played.
The smell of smoke
drifts toward us,
like an old friend.
We begin to hear laughing
and singing.

We crowd around the fire,
reaching for sticks and cramming
as many marshmallows onto them as will fit,
all of us as excited as a pen full of puppies.

Now for the fire:
some plunge the treat
deep into the flames, waiting
for the gooey mess
that is soon to come.
others linger by the edges of the fire,
wanting that delicious golden brown.

But the marshmallows all end up
the same
squished between chocolate
and graham crackers,
the perfect trio.
As I bite into this dessert,
bits of marshmallow
and graham cracker
stick to the corners of my mouth.

I laugh with my friends
as we walk back to our rooms,
already wanting to start the next day.
And to think that this moment
will only be
a star.
(Abby, June – 2007)

Lexington, typical American town where the Revolution began, has become a pretty diverse American place, at least in some senses.  The town cultural composition is now twenty percent Asian, is home to people from many economic groups (although overwhelmingly middle and upper-middle class), offers many religious traditions, many cultural backgrounds.  And, yes, Lexington High School is a very, very good school – currently regarded as one of the top five public schools in the state.  The efforts of a herd of teachers and administrators caused “Songs of Ourselves” to come about, and the Lexington Education Foundation helped make it so.

Most of all, though, this project showed us, once again, what the arts in education can do.  Too often, these days, as very difficult decisions have to be made about what stays and what goes in city and town education budgets, the arts end up on the cutting room floor.  “Songs of Ourselves” offered us a look at what it means to be a teen today in this little town, and showed us what kind of gorgeous magic can be unlocked when you swirl together a few talented artists, a group of dedicated teachers and administrators, the funding support of an organization that wants to support the best in education, and a group of students willing to risk.  It’s delicious, and it’s worth our support as well.

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Last night, Ben and I had the thrill of watching our younger child up on stage, as she danced and sang her way through “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” as a member of the Ensemble in Lexington High School’s very fine production of the Rupert Holmes musical.  It was a terrific show (yes, a little too long, and the sets and costumes could have been better, but still, it was very, very good for a high school production), thanks in large measure to the excellent direction of Steven Bogart, the talented drama teacher who retires from LHS this year.  The vocal coaching of Jason Ianuzzi was impressive, and Jeff Leonard, who now runs the performing arts program in the Lexington school system, did his usual terrific job of both directing the orchestra and holding the onstage orchestral/vocals together.

The fact that Abby had auditioned for the show at all was amazing:  as a timid child who has spent her growing years struggling with how to find the courage to try new things, she gave the audition her all and found herself with a part in the show’s Ensemble — which was, she said, her goal.  She learned dance steps, even though she has always shied away from dance lessons.  She learned new music.  She practiced her acting skills, which are better than she gives herself credit for.  She made many new friends, and discovered why Steve Bogart is a legend at Lexington High School.  It has been a blast.

Last night, she told us that, before the cast went on stage, Jeff Leonard shared an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” on work:

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work
and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing,
you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

The poem, Leonard said, had been used by Bogart’s predecessor, Mr. DiDomenico, as the final ‘blessing’ of the cast and crew on opening night, for each show.  Those who followed DiDomenico, including Bogart and Leonard, have continued the tradition for the last four decades.  45 years ago, when Mr. DiDomenico was the drama teacher, a high school student named Ben Soule was in the shows that were on the Lexington High School Stage:  “Oliver,” “Camelot,” “South Pacific.”  Around the same time, Deb Weiner was on stage or back stage at Hamden High School in Connecticut, in dramas like “Ring Round the Moon,”  “Antigone,” and “Under Milk Wood.”  And, in her own time at Lexington High 12 years ago, Emily Soule was back stage at Lexington High School working on “Into the Woods,” making scenery and running set changes.  The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The thrill of working on a show is magical.  That Abby is now enjoying this beautiful ride, and in doing so, discovering more about herself as she enters the last 13 months of her high school experience, is marvelous.  That she is blessed, not only with good friends but with dedicated and talented teachers to guide her, is a gift beyond measure.  This work is love made visible, and it showers love on us all.

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…so begins the chorus of Pink’s song, “Who Knew,” which my sixteen-year-old daughter, Abby sang last night in Lexington High School’s (LHS) spring a capella jam.  I love the song, and I love that Abby is part of an a capella group (there are six at LHS).   Ben and I were in a capella groups in our colleges, and we know that the camaraderie that develops, not to mention musicality, is powerful and rich.  We’re glad that Abby is having a chance to experience this as well.

But if someone had said three years ago that Abby would be up there singing this solo, I would have doubted them.  The fact that she did it, and did it beautifully, is a tribute to her and the community in which we exist, giving credence to the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Abby was an extraordinarily outgoing small child.  She was known for walking up to complete strangers and kissing them on the knee, or starting up a conversation.  When we would travel, she would work the room at a restaurant, moving from table to table, chatting.  It was charming and engaging.

Like many kids, I suppose, she learned as she grew that one should not always be so fearless.  She became unsure of herself, painfully shy, afraid to take risks for fear of criticism or failure.  She also knew that she didn’t want to live life afraid, and so she committed to confront her insecurities.  With the support of those around her, breakthroughs occurred, sometimes small, sometimes huge.  She loved music, and in her freshman year in high school, she dug deep for the courage to audition for an a capella group.  She didn’t get in, but she worked like mad and tried again as her sophomore year began. Lo and behold, two groups wanted her.  She was over the moon, and chose the one she thought was the best fit.  Synchronistically,, the group’s called “Euphoria.”

Abby’s worked and worked on her singing, on having the courage to try out for a solo, on forming relationships with her co-singers.  And last night, there she was, singing the solo in “Who Knew.”  But there’s more to the story, more that makes me celebrate and want to shout to the heavens with gladness.  It turns out that the cause of the hoarseness and difficulty hitting some notes which she has experienced over the last several months is a cyst on her left vocal cord.  It’s treatable, but the diagnosis couldn’t have come at a worse time, right before the concert.  With the help of medical  professionals and again, a terrific circle of community and friends, Abby decided she wanted to go for it and not miss this opportunity.  Her a capella group worked out an arrangement of the song that included a harmony part, with another singer adding in the high notes and Abby staying on the melody.  The arrangement worked.  Beautifully.  Most of all, she had the guts and commitment to get up there and make it happen.

If someone had said three years ago that I’d be watching this girl stand in front of 600 or so people and sing a solo, I would have told them they were wrong.  And it’s a triumph.  Who knew?

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