Every year I visit with seniors about their experiences at Randolph, and I always ask about their fondest memories. Many of our oldest students talk about events that occurred when they were in the Lower School. Just before Thanksgiving two remarkable projects in the Lower School reached conclusion, and I am certain that the boys and girls who participated will remember these extraordinary opportunities forever.
On Monday, November 15 Mary Jones presented an incredible K-4 collaborative art project to the School. Encouraged by Director of Lower School Curriculum and Student Life, Susie Cobbs, Mrs. Jones was inspired by the all-school reading of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea and the young readers’ version entitled, Listen to the Wind. What I love about the project is that she had the vision to turn it over to the Lower School children, and she, following the counsel offered in the book, listened to their ideas for how they could create a piece of art to mark our common commitment to the needs of others.
Mrs. Jones told the assembled Lower School students that “this has been the best art experience I have ever been a part of.” At first, I did not believe her. After all, she’s an incredible artist in her own right, and she has been a superb teacher for many, many years. But then I saw the beauty of the final product, and, even more important, I stopped to think about why the project meant so much to Mrs. Jones.
She loved the project because she had the courage to allow the K-4 students to own it from the beginning. After reading the book, the boys and girls talked and wrote about what they should do and how they would depict artistically the themes of kindness, generosity, and compassion that came through the book and are Randolph themes for the year. One little boy wrote (you’ll have to excuse his spelling!) that the book “blew my mind” and that “it helped me relize that one can lead to five and five can lead to twenty and twenty can lead to a millon.”
Our Lower School students will have this beautiful piece of art, now hung outside of Mrs. Cobb’s office in Rison Hall, as a permanent reminder of a remarkable educational opportunity with real-life applications.
Earlier this fall Lower School music teacher Lea Hoppe began collaborating with UAHuntsville Assistant Professor of Music David Ragsdale on a project to bring David Maslanka’s Liberation to Huntsville and to the Garth Campus. Dr. Maslanka is one of the world’s most prolific and accomplished living composers, and Liberation is one of his most recent compositions.
Dr. Ragsdale invited Mrs. Hoppe’s Young Voices to be the choral accompaniment for the UAHuntsville Wind Ensemble’s performance of this music on the Garth Campus. At first, Mrs. Hoppe was understandably reluctant to take the plunge. Liberation is, after all, a very challenging piece of music, and we know how busy our children are with school and extracurricular activities. Aware that it would be difficult to teach the children to sing in Latin in compound meter and to work in harmony with an accompanying wind ensemble, Mrs. Hoppe worried that she might not be able to “get them to do what needed to be done.”
It was Mrs. Hoppe’s abiding faith in our students that drove her to take on this extraordinary opportunity. A week before the performance, Dr. Maslanka traveled to Huntsville and served as an artist in residence. His work with our students was powerful in every way. In lengthy rehearsals he challenged, corrected, and supported them with grace and conviction, and they responded beautifully. At the airport on his way home, Dr. Maslanka asked Dr. Ragsdale to “tell the children their singing made me smile.”
Their hard work came to fruition on Saturday, November 20 during a standing-room-only performance at the Center for the Arts on the Garth Campus. Liberation premiered in Japan, and had been performed only once more before that night. This was the first time that a children’s choir performed this piece. Watching the 72 boys and girls stride out onto the stage and perform this piece was exhilarating and inspirational. Under the leadership of the magnificent Mrs. Hoppe, they were that night the embodiment of what we do at Randolph, and the beauty of their music on that special evening is something that I expect they will remember for the rest of their lives.