Dublin School Residency – Closing Reflections

When I first caught wind of the proposed initiative for a member of Walden’s faculty to be in residence during the year at The Dublin School (our campus hosts for the last several decades), I only had to think about it for a few seconds before piping up and saying “I’d do it”. And so it happened that I recently spent a month at The Dublin School, teaching two musicianship classes, offering some private lessons, mentoring and collaborating with Dublin’s music teacher Jess Harrison, and giving a concert with my jazz trio. I was drawn by the chance to deepen the relationship between our two programs, not just academically and artistically, but personally as well. I was first a Walden student in 1992; this summer will be my fourteenth on that campus. Some members of the Dublin community have been around all of those summers, and yet beyond knowing each others names and saying a casual hello, we’ve had few moments of meaningful contact. For me, these relationships have transformed, having had the chance to sit together over dinner day in and day out, to share stories and laughter, and to partner in building a community in which a group of students can grow and flourish. I enjoyed learning that Andy likes to kid, Jan loves to kvetch, and Brad throws a killer curveball. (I volunteered my services as umpire during a pick-up softball game, which, for those who don’t know me personally, is amusing because I really am blind.)

Arriving in Dublin in mid April, I was struck by all the ways in which it felt much like being back at Walden. The smells in particular were poignantly nostalgic for me: the crisp mountain air, the characteristic floor polish in the schoolhouse (which used to be the library), and the tomato soup and veggie Rubins in the lunch buffet. The touch and articulation of the recital hall piano, now soft, now biting, took me back to the composer’s forum when I was fourteen and sharing my music at Walden for the first time. It was a bit colder true, even snowy at times; but though there were no blessings before meals or singing in the evenings, though breakfast began at 7:00 instead of 7:45 and there was no rest hour in the schedule (I did snag a few unofficial rest hours on general principle), there were still small classes ripe with humor, teachers who obviously care about their students, and even a few student / faculty pranks, such as the recurring disappearance of the May pole in advance of May Fair, much to Jan’s distress and the clandestine glee of the freshman class. I was surprised and delighted by how quickly I felt at home.

And of course, I was drawn by the chance to teach musicianship outside of the immediate Walden environment, which I found to be unexpectedly tricky, without pianos tucked away in every available nook and when students aren’t eating, breathing, and dreaming music, creativity, Solfege, and the overtone series every hour of the day. Even so, it was fun for me to experience that the discover-drill-create process really does hold up, regardless of the trappings of the teaching situation, gently guiding a class to that tipping point when a creative activity becomes more than just an exercise and something of heart comes to the surface, right there in the middle of the school day. For my E block class, we found this with group improvisations with perfect fourths, focusing on a particular mood, having a conductor cuing intensity, or following the contours of a narrated story. I continue to be amazed at what emerges from young people when provided with adequate space, intention, and care.

The golden section of the residency for me was doing a concert with my jazz trio. Weldon Kollock, trombone, and Chip Newton, guitar, traveled up from North Carolina for a few days to join me for a show of blues, bebop, bossanova, and The Beatles. These are some of my favorite musicians to play with. We all agree that it is most rewarding to play for an audience that is present and engaged, and this surely was that; as Jess put it after, “I’ve never seen this community so energized on a Friday evening before.” (These kids have a highly structured schedule during the week, so having any attention left to give come week’s end is a pretty thorough compliment.) Weldon will be joining me on campus again for another show this summer, as part of Walden’s 2010 concert series (Sunday evening, July 11), along with some other friends, including a painter. (Jazz with live painting – check it out!)

It was a good month. As Brad Bates, Dublin School’s headmaster and a driving force in bringing this residency into being, put it, “Your visit far exceeded my expectations for what could be accomplished during this first year of collaboration between our two schools.” I know that Seth and I are similarly thrilled with how the experiment turned out. I think we’re all looking forward to further partnership in the years to come.