Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sophie's Choice

“In 1985, as the staff discussed what the new Middle School would be like, we had a hard decision to make. Would music and art become competing electives, as they often are in Middle Schools, or would they continue to be core curriculum for everyone? If we had merely followed the convention of other schools, we would have missed an extraordinary opportunity. But true to the spirit of our school, we decided to trust our intuition, to do it our way and live the conviction that the arts are central at every stage of our development and for every child, regardless of apparent interest or so-called talent.”

So opened the program notes to our Middle School Spring Concert. Reading them over, I thought about the idea of art and music as competing subjects. Why would a culture do that to its children? It’s as if God was fashioning human beings and said, “ To stay alive you need to eat and you need to drink. Choose one.” Why would the arts, something as basic as bread and water to us, be set up against each other and offered as if it were a treat that you could take or leave? And that’s in the better schools these days. In so many places, the bread and water of the arts isn’t even on the menu—no choice.

So 27 years after making the choice we made at The San Francisco School, we had another glorious evening of music-making in our annual Spring Concert. Really an astounding evening. From the deliciously raucous Balkan band opening to the 6th graders’ hypnotic Philippine piece and exuberant Jarocho dancing and joyful Canta Pajarito song, from 7th graders bringing Medieval music, Vivaldi, Piazolla and Stravinsky alive in such compelling and creative arrangements, to the 8th graders giving us a “Thrill from the Blues” and sweet jazz ballads and hot Latin jazz and showing us that it “Taint Whatch Do It’s the Way Howcha Do It,” it was two hours of basic nutrition beautifully presented and tastefully cooked. It had all the conviviality of a great meal with the conversation flowing and also conversation brought to a halt as folks savored the flavors. Delicious!

To offer competing arts in Middle School, elective arts only in high school and college, no arts in the workplace is just plain wrong. It is the sickness of our culture. When will they make the “Sophie’s Choice” movie showing that? We must love all the children of our intelligences equally, continue to raise our capacities to experience and express the world visually, musically, linguistically and kinesthetically with a lifetime of art, music, poetry, drama and dance. The choice that all the Sophies I know make, those marvelous children who enter and leave my classes so happy to get to play, sing and dance at every age,is and forever will be “all of the above.”

So all you Boards of Education, when will you wake up? I imagine St. Peter interviewing you: “Did you feed the children? Did you cook with love? Or were you so cruel as to make them choose or crueler yet, withhold food and water all together. I don’t care about the charities you gave to and all the good deeds you did. No room for you here!”

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