Intersections: The End Is Near

May 17, 2017 by Bill Ivey

As I prepare to spend our last Morning Meeting planning out both Founders’ Day (a special day off from middle school classes planned by and for the students) and the end of year trip, Lily happens to overhear that the Thursday night Middle School Rock Band is looking for a new lead singer for “Paradise.” She brightens, leans forward and says, “I’ll do it.” I don’t have a very strong sense of her as a singer, and I know we only have one, maybe two rehearsals before the next show, but I do have the instinct she wouldn’t step up if she didn’t have some level of confidence she could pull it off. I smile and say, “Thank you. Our next rehearsal is Thursday night six days from now.”

That first Thursday, her eyes dart around as she rocks back and forth from one foot to the other, her hands wrung around each other. Laura looks up from her piano and asks, “Do you want me to sing it with you until you feel comfortable?” “Oh, yes!” responds Lily, and Laura moves slightly behind her and to the right. “I’ll sing off-mic, okay?” she says, and Lily makes the deep head nod that generally signifies a certain measure of relief leavening a certain level of nervousness, all underscored by a conviction that one way or another, this is the right course of action.

Lily’s first entrance is shaky, but Laura explains to her what to do and she gets it right on the second try. The first time a lead vocalist sings through any given song is always a moment of reckoning, as there is a sharp difference between singing along to a track and having to come up with all of the entrances, rhythms, and pitches on one’s own. Lily cares so deeply about doing well and about supporting her friends that her own few moments of confusion hit her hard, but Laura - and I - and the other students - all help her acknowledge everything she’s doing well and explain the few moments so she will no longer be confused. After only her second time singing it through with Laura, she declares she is ready to try it alone…

… and makes it all the way through on the first try. We run it once more, agree to hold an extra rehearsal during free time the next day, congratulate her, and knock off for the night.

The evening of the show, this group is the third act, after Chorus 7 and the Tuesday night Middle School Rock Band. Lily walks quickly up to the mic, grabs it, turns, and looks around as she waits for everyone else to settle in with their instruments. After a bit, she asks them “Ready?” and they are. She turns back to the audience and, in a loud clear voice, announces the song. Elizabeth clicks off the four beats that set the tempo, and they are off.

“Paradise” is not an easy song, and our arrangement challenged each student in different ways. Elizabeth, drumming in performance for the first time, dealing with transitioning a straightforward backbeat to and from a syncopated kick drum pattern. Piper, a violinist without a violin, playing the string part on a keyboard and relying on visual memory and her ear. Victoria, new to the bass this year, and Laura, relatively inexperienced on piano, navigating a part whose chord sequences are much less repetitive than with a typical rock song. And Ruthie, the one student actually playing from sheet music, serving as the foundation on which the song was built. They did an awesome job, Lily sailing through the song as if she’d been rehearsing it from the first day, and the crowd erupted in applause.

These are the kinds of moments that stand out in the whirlwind of routines and rituals as I work hard to make the most of our rapidly waning time together, to mark the passage of time, to marvel at the growth that has quietly and incrementally been happening, to honour and celebrate our connections. I always tell the kids, “We only have (five) days left together. Let’s make the most of every moment.”

And I do.

And then, I miss them.

I miss them like crazy.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: Intersections, Year End