Enriching Learning and Life Through The Arts
I am a frustrated wannabe musician with nearly undetectable abilities. Yet, I love music – all types of music. I love listening to music and I love attending live musical events of all types.
My appreciation of music has evolved from an early age. I remember my parents listening to Johnny Mathis on summer evenings while my father cooked dinner on the grill. I remember transitioning from AM to FM radio and the joy of hearing Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog for the first time on a radio station that did not count down America’s top 40 songs each week. I remember my father telling me that a Dvorak Symphony could elevate my soul as he kept the rhythm on the steering wheel while listening to WQXR from New York City.
As a young teacher at Trinity-Pawling School, my interest in music was well known to the students. For the first two years of my employment, I was actually asked by the students to be the DJ at school dances. This honor was rescinded after my second year when I was unable to honor requests for Run DMC and Paula Abdul. Teenage musical trends can be fleeting and unforgiving. Yet, the love of music is a point of reference that generations share.
Recently, I had the pleasure to meet Charlie Sticka, Class of 1952 at Trinity-Pawling School. Charlie is a renowned athlete who was actually too good of a football player to play on the Trinity-Pawling football team (Headmaster Matt Dann allegedly did not want the School to be seen in a poor light by the enrollment of a “ringer”). Instead, he served as a coach. After playing collegiate football at Trinity College, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. As important as athletics has been in Charlie’s life, he is passionate about the arts. Even though he lives in the Boston area, he never misses the Metropolitan Opera in New York. When the opera season is over, he continues his sojourns to New York for the Metropolitan Ballet. When the ballet season is over, he is off to Tanglewood each weekend to see the Boston Symphony in the Berkshires. As he said to me recently, “once I hear the first voices of the opera, I am reminded that its beauty is what compels me.”
In our early years at Trinity-Pawling, Jennifer and I discovered the treasure that is the Pawling Concert Series, a non-profit organization that provides Pawling community the opportunity to be enriched by distinctive musical artists who perform at the School. With one of the students babysitting our young children, we would slip away for two hours of musical solace. Whether it was a classical quartet, a choral group singing ancient Christmas music, or a jazz pianist lost in the improvisation of the moment, the concerts appealed to my interest in music and rejuvenated my soul amidst the frenetic pace of my personal and professional life.
My previous school, St. George’s Independent School in Memphis, TN, hosted an annual art gala. In the week leading up to the show, hundreds of expensive paintings hung on the hallways that were traveled by 700 middle and upper school students. When asked if I ever worried about vandalism, I always replied it was not a real concern for me. “What greater sign of respect shown to young people,” I would respond, “than to surround them with the beauty of art.” Of course, in our work with those students, we sought to be deliberate in teaching that the process of artistic creation is a gift to be respected. They never disappointed me. Moreover, their learning experience was enriched by the presence of so much art on campus. The same is true for the students and the campus at Trinity-Pawling. The arts enrich both learning and life.
The arts speak to our humanity. They touch aspects of our lives that can take us to the past, inform our present, and beckon us to the future by exposing us to something new. They not only speak to our interests, but they awake our beings to new possibilities and new appreciations. As I am sure Charlie Sticka ’52 would agree, they are gifts to be treasured.
I can think of no better place than to honor the gift of the arts than in a school setting that is designed to expose young people to a deeper awareness of themselves and the richness of their lives. The arts are a critical component of a well-rounded education. I am blessed that the two schools where I have worked have deeply valued the importance of the arts in the curriculum and the culture of the school. While the business of our lives seems to be accelerating with the overall pace of change, the arts allow us to pause, reflect, and be renewed.
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