Four months ago, I took a photo from a similar vantage point with snow falling and hints of a long winter to come.. and now the grass is lush, and the students at Maine Coast Semester are walking around campus in shorts and t shirts, and the summer camping programs at Chewonki are preparing to welcome campers for fun and adventure.
One of the many roles that both students and faculty get to share is that of Leader of the Day. As a part time faculty member, I thought that I had missed out on this opportunity, but last week a student alerted me to the fact that my name was on the calendar. I had somehow missed that, but sure enough, when I checked, my name was there. I immediately began thinking about how to fulfill this commitment.
The leader of the day helps to keep the day flowing beginning with the very first commitment – morning gathering – at 6:55 each morning. This is a quick check in where a quote or a thought for the day is offered by the leader before students head in different directions to complete their morning chores before breakfast. The next duty is to offer the community a reminder that breakfast is nearly over and that morning meeting begins in 10 minutes and then running that morning meeting. During this time, the Leader begins by offering a prompt for community members – both students and faculty – to discuss with those sitting next to them. After a student shares a current events story, the Leader then shares a personal story which is then followed by some announcements before we all head off and prepare for the days classes.
At lunch, the leader talks about the menu, describes what items at the table are from our own farm or locally sourced, and then offers a quote before the meal begins. He or she then manages the announcement period following lunch. The final duty is at dinner which is much like lunch. By the end of the semester, students and faculty have each had an opportunity to be Leader of the day 2 or more times, but, due to other commitments, this was my first time to play the part – this was the first day that I had an opportunity to spend an entire day on campus. I thought I would share here my experience as Leader of the Day…
I am thinking back to my sophomore year in high school – studying Julius Caesar with Mr. Vacarro at Quakertown Community Sr. High School – I have often thought of a quote from the first act where Ceasar was talking to Mark Anthony about Casius and describing him as one who … hears no music… I emphasized to the group how that simple phrase from a much longer quote struck me as a student in 10th grade. Mr Vacarro went on to explain that Shakespeare repeatedly used the idea of one who hears no music throughout his writing and that it indicated a person who, at the very least, was very sad, and who more likely was suspect and one who bears watching… of course, in the end, Ceasar was correct about Casius.. I then encouraged the students to take time to listen to the music around us.. and I paused, and we noticed how the air was filled with the sound of busy song birds.. and then I told them that I hoped that they had a song in their heart and wished them a good day!
I opened the meeting by diving in and singing ” I love you , a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap, a barrel and a heap , and I talking in my sleep about you… cows and chickens , are going to the dickens, cause I love you a bushel and a peck, you bet your pretty neck I do.. ” yup.. i even included the part about the cows and chickens… and then I said that this was a song that was corny when it was written, and a whole lot more corny today! ( what I did not say was that as a new teacher at 25 years of age, I would not have ever considered singing this to a group of high school students in the morning.. but at 58, who cares! )
I explained that this was the first song that I taught my daughter, Alison, when she was a young girl, and then I asked them to turn to their neighbor and to talk about the first song that they learned as a child.. it was fun to look around and to see smiles break out as they spoke with one another.
After the news, I shared the story of Bill Nash who was the music teacher at my junior high school. Although, as a young child, I used to go with my mother to a nearby nursing home where she led singing with the residents, and I grew up in a house filled with music, it did not immediately occur to me to join the chorus when I entered junior high. but one day, early in the year, Mr. Nash stopped me outside of the library and told me that he had heard me singing in music class and that he wanted me to join the chorus.. and being the person who never wanted to disappoint anyone ( still that way) I said “sure”. So I joined the chorus… and the following year he said, “I want you to try out for county chorus. ” I had no idea what county chorus was, but I said “ok/” we practiced the audition song and went to the audition and, along with the rest of the group who auditioned, I was accepted.. how fun was that! And what followed from that point on was district chorus and regional chorus and state chorus in my junior year.. I got to travel clear across the state of Pennsylvania to Pittsgurgh on my own to go to the state chorus festival.. and I had a wonderful time and liked being in the city and later decided to go to college there. And because of my participation in at States, I was invited to join a chorus that toured Europe the following summer…
And then life got in the way, and I did not have an opportunity to sing for a number of years, but I rediscovered the joy of singing as an adult in a community choir in Wolfeboro NH – the Clear Lakes Chorale. And, when I moved back to Pennsylvania to teach, I had the opportunity to join a Chorale there where eventually, I met my wife Janet..
And then I pointed out how all of this unfolded because Mr. Nash took the time to stop me in the hall one day and said “Hey, I heard you sing in music class, and I want you to join the chorus.”
Quote – “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” George Eliot
by the way.. as always, lunch was great – the kitchen crew at Chewonki are very passionate about preparing food, and meals are a highlight of each and every day!!
I tried to keep this quick.. like every day, it was long and filled with activity.. But I told the group about listening to the radio personality Paul Harvey years ago, and looking forward to the segment at noon when he would share the news and when he would tell us “the rest of the story” – sharing some interesting tidbits or twists about stories with which we, his radio audience, were already familiar. And then I told the group that I had to share “the rest of the story.”
When I returned to Pennsylvania in 2000 to teach at Wyoming Seminary, I stood for a group picture, along with the other new faculty and staff, and the picture later appeared in the Alumni Journal.. and not too long after that, I got a note from the Alumni Office. I learned that Bill Nash has grown up in Kingston and was, in fact, an alum of Wyoming Seminary. He had seen my picture in the journal, and contacted the office to get my email address. It was easily 25 years since I had last been in touch with Bill, and he was Mr. Nash then.. but here was the same guy, now taking time to reach out and re-establish a friendship.. and I gladly accepted.. In addition to music, Bill and I shared a passion for boats, and he got me involved with the local chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society which was based at Harvey’s Lake where he had a summer home.. He would address me as “my friend” and we shared numerous warm conversations at Grotto Pizza over lunch or on his porch at the lake. We enjoyed reminiscing about the days at Strayer Junior High and later at Milford Junior High where he finished his teaching career. Bill rarely said a negative thing about anyone.. he was an optimist who focused on the good in people.
One night in the winter when I was sitting by the stove, I thought about the impact that Bill had on my life, and I wrote him a note, outlining all that I had shared at Morning Meeting. A week or so later, I got a call from him.. he had received my note and was calling to express his appreciation, and we agreed to meet at Grotto in the spring when he returned to the lake. But that was the last time that we spoke.. a month or so later, I learned that he had passed away. I often wonder if he knew all along that he might not make it till spring as he has been battling illness for quite some time.
Although the story ended on a sad note.. it was really a celebration of having an opportunity to share with Bill the impact that his life and work had on me and on so many other students. I finished by encouraging those in attendance at dinner to reach out to others to share thoughts of gratitude.
And then we sat down to another fine meal.. and I rounded out the day by working with my fellow faculty members on the dish crew… and I left to return home around 7:30 as the community was settling down to study hours.. I left with a deeper appreciation for the work that my colleagues are doing on a daily basis.. their dedication to the students and to the program at Maine Coast Semester… And I feel so fortunate to have had an opportunity to teach at MCS and to get a taste for the unique experience that it offers.
The garden is a wonder to watch with each passing day.. signalling the full onset of spring but also reminding us that Semester 60 is quickly drawing to a close. Tomorrow is the last day of formal classes, and in just a couple of weeks, the students will be saying good bye – they are already becoming sentimental – and so am I…