Good morning! Or evening? I think the times are all running together for me. This coronavirus has been a real kick in the teeth for this music teacher, to be honest. I am a faculty member in the state of Maryland at The Bryn Mawr School, located in north Baltimore’s Roland Park community. Founded in 1885 as the first college preparatory school for girls in the United States, we are an independent, non-sectarian, preK-12 school. Today, I am really missing it.
I miss playing the piano in my classroom. I miss creative collaboration with our hands on the musical instruments. I miss rehearsing and conducting my choirs. Some days I just miss seeing all of the joyful faces walking the pathways at our school.
I miss crossing paths with Upper School English teacher Dr. Leslie Jansen, who always seems to have a smile to share. I miss running into our Lower School Counselor Debra Waranch, who is a fountain of wisdom even if only for a moment at the salad bar. I miss grabbing a few moments to sharpen my thinking with our Middle School Learning Specialist Stacey Rubin. I miss it all. I think I miss my colleagues and students more with each passing day. Maybe that is very good.
Like most who are now teleworking, I need to get up and take breaks from my laptop to walk around and get the blood flowing. I think last night my eyes crusted over and I was all done with looking at screens, my hundredth Zoom, my latest assignment published on our learning platform. I just really miss human personal interaction. I can confidently say it is true - absence does make the heart grow fonder!
I started thinking about the last time when my school community was all together in the gymnasium for our annual Thanksgiving Convocation. Typically when we gather the whole community together, we sing a common song we have sung for years - our school song. Perhaps your institution or alma mater has a school song as well.
These songs usually mean more to a very localized community and may not make sense to the outside world. I started rehearsing in my mind the Bryn Mawr school song...each line started to mean a lot more to me than ever before. Could I briefly adopt you into our Bryn Mawr community? Welcome, by the way! We’re glad you stopped by.
Here are the lyrics to our school’s song and how they are affecting me.
Joyous the love That rises in our heart;
To Thee, Bryn Mawr, we sing
Of thy dear world apart;
Thy happy halls, thy fearless world
Of calm and strife, where hope unfurled
Wild dreams of youth, a wakening world
Of wider realms a part.
Shout, shout the love
Our praise to thee, Bryn Mawr
For golden hopes and dreams
That shine where’er we are.
In sorrow, joy, in wisdom's quest
In work, in play, achievement’s zest,
If years from now we meet the test,
We’ll thank thee then, Bryn Mawr.
"JOYOUS THE LOVE THAT RISES IN OUR HEARTS..."
Joy, love and music seem to be intertwined in our lives. Music is playing a really important role in lifting people's spirits during this time of confinement. You may have seen Broadway musicians offering free live concerts from their living rooms and home studios. These artists normally are connecting with crowds in ticketed concerts all over the world. Now, they have made their audience a virtual concert.
"...TO THEE BRYN MAWR WE SING..."
Around this time of year, we are gearing up for spring concerts, visual art displays, Gym Drill dances, athletic wins and academic awards. While Bryn Mawr is a non-sectarian community, each of us as community members come with a variety of meaningful family, cultural, religious and diverse personal backgrounds we bring to the table. Places of worship our community members may frequent are empty like our campus and live streaming. Imams, rabbis, priests, pujaris and pastors are offering words of comfort and music during a time that is difficult for so many. Many are missing their masjid, temple, synagogue or church and the social interactions of others. Passover seders and Holy Week celebrations are all going virtual. Non-religious are turning to music for calm and solace as we face this global emergency.
I miss those, too, and I miss my Bryn Mawr campus. It’s the place I spend the most time outside of my home. I walk the halls and pathways daily. Suddenly I don’t and everything is different.
"...OF THY DEAR WORLD APART...THY HAPPY HALLS, THY FEARLESS WORLD OF CALM AND STRIFE, WHERE HOPE UNFURLED WILD DREAMS OF YOUTH..."
In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine this? You don’t have to know Bryn Mawr to get this. For a moment, imagine yourself adopted into our community if you have never even heard of Bryn Mawr. Here are the sentiments - insert your own situation or institution.
We all miss our beloved Bryn Mawr campus - our “dear world apart!” But Bryn Mawr is not just the buildings - I am Bryn Mawr. You are Bryn Mawr. We are still the good, resilient citizens Bryn Mawr teaches us to be.
Right now, we are confined and maybe we could choose to accept the adversity and learn from it. None of us wants the Coronavirus. What in the world even is COVID-19? Just literally a month ago, it wasn’t a household word. Now it has brought fear and change to our planet. We have to adapt.
For us at Bryn Mawr - we miss our beautiful new Student Center, delicious lunches together, our school store we call the “Brynmawrket,” games on our turf field, convocations in Centennial Hall, walks across the bridges to our partner schools Gilman School and Roland Park Country School. Yes - one day - we will have all that again and probably be even more grateful for what we have.
Pause and reflect on what was, what is, and wonder about what will be.
"...AWAKENING WORLD OF WIDER REALMS A PART."
In what seems like a quick moment, our world has changed. Things are...well...somewhat inconvenient. Everyone has had to hit the pause button on life as we know it. We can make the choice to look past the inconveniences to the good that is to be found in our awakening world.
There is something very powerful in caring about each other. We are thrust into a different way of life. We are all in virtual school, teachers and students alike, as learners. I am not so sure constantly asking, “When will this crisis end?” is the most useful question. So, class - here is our teachable moment: What will this crisis teach us?
Go ahead, by the way, and be upset - have a little rant if you need to, then calm down and watch the sun set. It will rise again tomorrow. We can be intentional. Think outside of our little box. Yes, right now, some things are different. Some of it is the same. We are adapting and practicing new and creative ways of doing life. Where will we go from here? My answer is simple: Back to Bryn Mawr.
"SHOUT, SHOUT THE LOVE, OUR PRAISE TO THEE BRYN MAWR FOR GOLDEN HOPES AND DREAMS THAT SHINE WHEREVER WE ARE..."
"IN SORROW, JOY, IN WISDOM'S QUEST, IN WORK OR PLAY, ACHIEVEMENT'S ZEST, IF YEARS FROM NOW WE MEET THE TEST, WE'LL THANK THEE THEN, BRYN MAWR."
Confession time. I honestly grew to not like our school song very much. Shocking, I know. I mean - the melody is okay and the lyrics are 1932. Perhaps when I heard the old music of our school song begin, it sort of became so familiar to me that I stopped noticing it. It was just "that thing we do." We gather together in KVB Gym and stand to sing the song that has been sung for almost a hundred years. It’s tradition. We need tradition and routine now more than ever.
Somehow, I sort of imagine the next time we all stand together to sing it in KVB, I might be a little more grateful for this music. I might even have a lump rise in my throat and feel the sting of tears. I’m going to think about it and prepare for that moment. I might just full-on weep. I will do so proudly with the tears streaming down my face. We don't know what we have until we don't have it anymore.
I accept the challenge from our Head of School, Sue Sadler, to "shine wherever we are" - SO, class, here are my thoughts as your Bryn Mawr music teacher. Music has always played a role at Bryn Mawr. Might I suggest it could play an even more important role in each of our lives right now than ever before?
Throughout history, music has been used in soothing people when we are upset. There are lullabies for crying babies, songs on TV shows like Sesame Street for toddlers, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc for teens and adults. Social media is increasingly valuable as a way to stay connected.
With all of our training and input, we continue to encourage safe and wise use of media. One very wise use can be finding music that speaks to you during this time. I compiled some links below to help anyone who might like to get started with this practice of adding a little more music into your day as a way of bringing focus, perspective, motivation, and hope.
Better yet - make your own music "journal" full of whatever works for you right now. If you are sad, listen to one sad song, then maybe stay away from sad music for a bit and insert a happy, upbeat piece that helps you focus your mind. Music isn't the cure all but it can really help.
I want to make one more suggestion for us all as we are VERY connected to our devices and social media and for good reason - we all need each other and we have work to complete. We miss seeing one another LIVE AND IN PERSON. We are grateful to be able to Zoom, Meet, call, FaceTime, etc. and those are gifts to us all.
Might I suggest when all the school work is done, all the important meetings finished, chores are done, and you have a few moments you don't normally have in your routine of getting up early, making the trip to campus, engaging all day in classes, music lessons, sports, rehearsals, travel back home, more homework, etc.? Choose some time to completely disconnect from devices and just be still.
Listen to the music of nature - the birds singing, dogs barking, people laughing. Think about the people and places you are missing. Think about what you might say when you see them again. And let the reality of this season sink in. We are students. Pupils. Learners. We are going to make the most of this opportunity and we will be better for it.
Keeping our social distancing in place, find a quiet spot outside or by a window, let in some sunlight and the unsteady rhythms of the wind. There is less pollution because less cars are going and coming. Open up and take a deep breath of the air outside. Look at the moon and stars at night. Be refreshed.
In my house, everyone is busy working. My 2-year-old daughter is busy playing restaurant at the moment. We are trying other forms of social connection with the people we suddenly find ourselves face to face with at home more than ever before. We got out old fashioned board games like Yahtzee, Monopoly and Clue. We found some good clean jokes and took time to laugh. When it has gotten too serious, someone busts out into a family dance party.
Go ahead. Try it. Then binge watch a tv show you never have time for. Make a crazy music video together. Who cares if you can't sing well? Just sing! I don’t know - maybe we can try an online school choir rehearsal. When you need it, have a good cry. Then pick yourself up, tell yourself the truth: you can't have a rainbow without any rain.
An old English proverb says, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” This coronavirus is a storm we didn't even imagine only just weeks ago. It is affecting all of our lives in many different ways.
Take time for yourself. Then when you are rested and feeling better, start thinking about others. Make a short video message for a teacher who might appreciate seeing your face and hearing from you. FaceTime a relative. If you want, say a prayer for healthcare workers. This is community. If we find out there is a neighbor a few doors down that needs something you can spare, leave it on their doorstep. I think that looks like Bryn Mawr, too.
I will end with a quote from Walt Disney:
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me...You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Your homework? Start that music journal. Class dismissed.
Todd Harrison Twining