Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Still Singing Together

I recently received a newsletter from my Antioch College, my alma mater, sharing stories about students' co-op experiences. A great believer in experiential learning, Antioch had—and still has—a work/ study program in which you studied for three months at the ivory-towered campus and then got a job somewhere in the country through the help of their Co-op Department. Working as a lab assistant, picking grapes with the Farmworkers, apprenticing with a carpenter, that sort of thing. They asked for other stories from alums and here is one that I wrote.

During my time at Antioch, I was a devote follower of the “Be Here Now” philosophy. I took the classes that seemed intriguing and had no ambitious trajectory regarding what I wanted to be “grew up.” But unhappy with my schooling up until entering Antioch, I was intrigued by the growing “free school” movement. And so when Co-op rolled around, I found myself time and again going to schools— an elementary school in New York City, a Summerhill school in rural Maine, a public alternative high School in Hartford, Connecticut and a Quaker boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. 


That last school was the Arthur Morgan School, named for the former Antioch president (1920-1936) and founded by his son Ernest and his wife Elizabeth. I arrived there in the Fall of 1972 and loved it so much, I extended my co-op into the     Winter of “73. Music had always been an interest, sparked yet higher and deeper through the inspired classes of Antioch’s John Ronsheim. Classically trained, I began playing Scott Joplin ragtime, some blues and other jazz styles and when I heard Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band album, I decided to start a jug band with the middle school students at the Arthur Morgan School. Spoons, washboards, kazoos, trumpet mouthpieces and singing formed the core of our 17-kid band, with me at the piano. 


Near the end of my six months there, I organized a two-week Southern tour, from North Carolina to Miami and back. Along with three other teachers, we drove an old school bus, slept at Community Centers/ church basements/ camping grounds and homes of parents at other alternative schools we performed for. It was an extraordinary experience and one you couldn’t even discuss these days without a team of lawyers and a Risk Committee breathing down your neck!


In 2012, the school held a 50thyear anniversary and having kept in touch with many of those students on the Jug Band trip, we decided to give a reunion concert at the event. And so around 10 of us re-convened and brought up the repertoire we hadn’t sung in some 40 years! And remembered it all!


From those seeds of music at Antioch and teaching co-ops, along with a class on the Orff approach to music education taught by guest teacher Avon Gillespie from Capitol University, I went on to become a music teacher. I taught kids for 45 years at a marvelous progressive school (The San Francisco School), became a leader in Orff Schulwerk giving workshops and courses in just about every state in the U.S. and province in Canada, as well as 48 countries around the world, published nine books and most importantly, had a great time doing it all.


This past year, eight of those kids whom I had taught for six short months at the Arthur Morgan School (now 60 years old!) and the three other teachers gathered again on Zoom. We started off answering one by one, “So, what have you been up to these last 47 years?” And then we sang. Again. Not quite as satisfying on gridded squares, but the spirit came through. 


Astounding the connections that can be made and re-made from a mere six months together, especially when woven together with song and the community vision of progressive education.


That’s the power of an Antioch co-op. 

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