Can you hear that?

March 21, 2016

Dear Friends,

Can you hear that?  Peepers?  Woodpeckers?  Children giggling?…all of it music of a kind.  When I was 8 we moved to Philadelphia and I went to a new school.  I had a really hard time coming from a small town and adjusting to these more sophisticated kids with designer jeans and leather boots.  I couldn’t read their cues, wasn’t popular, got mercilessly teased.  It was hard on my mom, who was working full time and wanted– needed– me to be happy in my new school.  One thing saved me that year, though, and both my mom and I knew that would make it all o.k. in the end.  It was my music class with Mrs. Kazmira.  My memory now doesn’t do her justice, because now I know she had a perm done up helmet style, and wore too much foundation.  But at the time, her polyester-wool kilts, beige twin sets and radiant singing voice were sent to me from heaven.  I loved (no adored) her and everything we sang.  Sometimes, we would use cool wood blocks and xylophones; we sang songs about cats and cowboys and to me, the songs were so much more exciting than life itself. Mrs. Kazmira liked how I sang and she complimented me when I gave it my all.  Many other kids wouldn’t give it theirs.  They wanted to be playing dodge-ball or doing gymnastics– needless to say that to me, those were hell.  Anyway, eventually I made friends and got happier outside of the music room, but for the first year, my music teacher saved me.

Music continues to be a huge part of my life– and it is one of my favorite parts of the Center School.  From the day I went to my first All School and sang “Walk a Mile” to now, a week until the 6th Variety Show, I have felt this incredible connection to my colleagues and my students because we sing and play music together.  Besides it being fun, as an educator I know that my feelings have deeper validity, because so much research shows us that music makes us smarter and, more importantly, happier!

In case you’ve not read about the Center School’s music program, here’s a description:

The Center School music program is at once a joyful, layered, and community experience.  Our music teacher, Ann Percival, is also a professional, gigging musician and a member of world-renowned band, Wild Asparagus.   In addition to her work with the school, each class has at least one homeroom teacher who is a musician.  Music is often integrated into other studies, such as Theme or Lit.  Social Justice songs are a huge part of the Center School musical canon.

Many of our students are talented musicians, singers, and dancers, and thus have rich and accomplished musical lives in and out of school.  For this reason, Center School projects often contain musical elements, with students writing or performing songs and dances related to areas of study.  For example, a student exploring mountaintop removal recently studied a related song by John Prine, called “Paradise.”

The final “assessment” or “representation” of our musical learning each year is the Center School Variety Show, where every child and teacher performs.  This is an experience that focuses not just on the blessings of process, but also gives children the opportunity to polish their work to performance level and then to feel the accomplishment only an audience and much rehearsal can provide.

Skill areas covered:

  • establishing a musical community
  • listening, identifying, and appreciating different types of musical genres and instruments within these genres;  learning social justice songs from around the country and the world
  • singing in a group/harmony singing
  • community dancing- cooperation/musicality/team building
  • exploration of time and meter using various clapping and foot rhythm patterns
  • song research- what is fun to sing and why, who is our audience?

In leaving you I share a quote from the late, great Dr. Oliver Sacks; it gives a wonderful description of the frisson music can create in us all:

At the end of our visit, Fleisher agreed to play something on my piano, a beautiful old 1894 Bechstein concert grand that I had grown up with, my father’s piano. Fleisher sat at the piano and carefully, tenderly, stretched each finger in turn, and then, with arms and hands almost flat, he started to play. He played a piano transcription of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” as arranged for piano by Egon Petri. Never in its 112 years, I thought, had this piano been played by such a master-I had the feeling that Fleisher has sized up the piano’s character and perhaps its idiosyncrasies within seconds, that he had matched his playing to the instrument, to bring out its greatest potential, its particularity. Fleisher seemed to distill the beauty, drop by drop, like an alchemist, into flowing notes of an almost unbearable beauty-and, after this, there was nothing more to be said.

Here’s Leon Fleisher playing the Bach (one of my absolute favorites too…)



Charlie Spencer, Head of School
Contact Charlie: Email
Phone: 413-773-1700
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