A couple of things have struck me as worthwhile to mention this past week. One was the annual New England Music Festival Association’s Concert Festival, held this year in Burlington, Connecticut at Lewis S. Mills High School. I was impressed in many ways with what we accomplished this year, although I was a bit dismayed again at the lack of music preparation of the students. This appears to be a perennial problem that we are going to be faced with, and it is not just this festival that encounters this. However, I am going to choose to ignore that for now and focus on another part of this event that is worth some energy.
The other thing that I mentioned above has some bearing on the festival experience; it is a new book that I am reading by Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, entitled “Made For Goodness.” You may have heard or seen some press about this book, and I would encourage you to get it and read it if you have the time. It is published by HarperOne and, as you might expect, focuses on the good that is in all people, and our individual potential to realize good in all people and situations. Desmond Tutu has seen the worst of human behavior in his lifetime, and all of us are aware of all the terrible things that happen these days, often in our own state where one wonders how human beings can do such terrible stuff to each other. Reading this book is, I think, helping me to understand my own weaknesses and biases and I find myself trying to re-direct my energies in a different manner. One reviewer said of this book “I doubt there is anyone on this earth with a deeper sense of God’s presence and goodness than Archbishop Tutu. To read his forthright advice is to feel oneself embraced by Providence and surrounded by Love. If you are thirsty for spiritual drink, come to the water of this beautiful book.”
OK….in spite of the less than admirable preparation of the New England participants, there was an energy and a sense of commitment this year that impressed me. Our guest choral conductor was top drawer in my book; Paul Head from the University of Delaware. For those of you that know him or have seen him work I need not say anything more. The students were taken by his expertise, knowledge and ability to verbalize ideas and find solutions to problems. I was proud to see our organization (and conductor) feed our singers with some quality choral literature. René Clausen’s “Sigh No More Ladies,” Handel’s “May No Rash Intruder,” (from Solomon), Stahford’s “Beati Quorum Via,” Mathias “Let All The People Praise Thee,” Quick’s “Loch Lomond,” Hogan’s “Joshua Fit The Battle,” and Mack Wilberg’s “Cindy.” We provided these students with a beautiful experience to connect with great composers and arrangers through a wonderful musician and conductor, and to do so in a beautiful school auditorium. The same can be said of the orchestra, whose conductor was Adam Glaser, conductor of the Juillard Schools Pre-College Symphony. The program was Weber’s “Der Freischutz” overture and the last movement of Dvorak 9. This conductor was extraordinary in every way, and as the orchestra improved he kept raising the bar and encouraged (challenged them) to meet his expectations; and they did! The Band conductor was Sarah McKoin from Texas Tech University, who challenged her players with some new wind music of William Ballenger, David del Tredici and Frank Techeli; than a traditional march of John Philip Sousa.
Many individuals worked diligently, persistently and without notice; some in virtual anonymity to bring this experience to these student musicians. How THOSE people were truly made for goodness! They do this every year, year after year, in the hope that this exposure to extraordinary conductors and exceptional literature will inspire them to connect with the music. This in itself is a spiritual experience that helps shape our students lives and spirits, and it makes them, in fact all of us, better individuals. We somehow learn better how to respect others, how to love and experience beauty through music. It may sound silly, but I believe it. We make a difference in our daily work. We prove our love for our students and our profession and our music through our efforts.
I was struck by this short paragraph in Tutu’s book. “Perfect love is not an emotion; it is not how we feel. It is what we do. Perfect love is acton that is not wrapped up in self-regard, and it has no concern with deserving. Instead, perfect love is love poured out. It is self-offering made out of the joy of giving. It requires no prompting. It seeks no response and no reward. God’s love is perfect because God always and only performs acts of love.”
I think that music festivals of this nature are beautiful gifts that all of us involved present to our students every year. We don’t do it because we are going to get recognition; we do it because it is the right thing to do, and it makes a difference for those students that are receptive to the gift. Congratulations to all of you that contributed in any way. It is indeed a good thing that we all do.