I’ve been thinking about Dusk, an event that took place three times in a school where I was Director of Music. Dusk began as an acoustic music evening in a particularly atmospheric building lit by lamps. In its second year we ‘upped’ the lighting with the addition of 100 tea lights in jam jars. It also became a chance for solace and community support during an unexpectedly difficult time for many of us: thinking back to that night, I am reminded of Hans Christian Anderson’s saying that “where words fail, music speaks.” We were no longer performers and audience, but a congregation. Inspired by Rufus Wainwright, we introduced a Hallelujah chorus: soloists sang the verses of Leonard Cohen’s song, and everyone present sang the refrains. I rediscovered the incredible power of unison singing, and suspect that it was a peak experience for several of those present.
Collaborating with the chaplaincy and counselling team on other events throughout the school year, it became increasingly apparent that members of our community really appreciated the creation of spaces blending music, readings, and time for thought. Candles, art work and themed refreshments also featured in these occasions – one such event, called Pulse because it celebrated love and life, prompted fierce arguments between myself and a colleague regarding the wisdom of serving coconut ice in a 14th century church! I found myself thinking about live music not as performance, but as part of a bigger, spiritual experience. In my third Dusk, shortly before I left the school, we included two secular readings. What had begun as a concert gradually morphed into something quiet different, something full of surprises.
This was a special school, in the truest sense of the word. Hierarchies were often diminished, and I am sure that is in part why we were able to create such a strong sense of community at these events. I also think that this unusual social hierarchy aided acceptance of popular music at ‘serious’ occasions, and I continue to champion choosing music based not on genre but on its potential to impact those present.
Some thoughts for music teacher colleagues then: What happens when you get rid of the word ‘concert’ from your planning? And when you think about the musical needs of all in your school community, not just about those who may wish to perform? Does your school provide spaces to grieve, celebrate, be angry, remember – and could music be used to create such a space?
And to those of you who shared in Dusk: Keep thinking of each other. Look after those who you love, and look after yourselves too. Take time to enjoy music by candlelight, to stop and breathe. And be so very proud of what we created!