Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
A couple of Thursdays ago, my husband and I drove our daughter down to Worcester, Ma., where she was to attend Harmony Explosion Camp Northeast, a three-day camp held at Worcester State University. She registered, along with two of her classmates, at the recommendation of their music teacher, Mr. Graves, who has been involved in the camp in the past. I spotted at least one other young Rutland songster amongst the mobs of young people, and there may well have been others, judging by the Vermont plates in the parking lot.
After getting her settled into her first experience staying in a dorm room, hugs goodbye included reassurances that she’d have a great time and that we’d be back before she knew it. Two days later, we were indeed back, pulling into the University with only moments to spare — due to a mishap at our dinner stop, which really would have deserved a not-so-positive write-up on Yelp if it hadn’t been for the manager, who redeemed the situation at the very last minute — before the final concert.
And what a concert it was! Imagine, if you will, 300-ish teenagers in blue T-shirts and jeans singing in four-part harmony a cappella. It was mind-blowing. I didn’t stop smiling a big, goofy grin for the entire almost three-hour concert.
First, it was the boys’ turn. Each one standing at attention, knees slightly bent, hands outstretched, eyes bright and trained on their director. At a signal barely visible to the audience, the 100 or so young men burst into a perfectly tuned, perfectly timed upbeat tune. They swayed and snapped, even wiggle-danced at one point, making the audience laugh and marvel at their musical precision as they blanketed us in heart-vibrating sound.
Next it was the girls’ turn, and once again the flood of harmonies, at once sassy and then serious (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung in barbershop style by a 100+ voice choir was as gorgeous as you can probably imagine it would be), was enough to get the tears flowing and the ovations standing. When the boys and girls joined forces for one more piece — a mash-up of two different love songs — the audience was highly, and noisily appreciative.
I won’t go into details of the second half of the concert, which showcased four barbershop quartets, regional, national, and international finalists. Suffice it to say, they were incredible. I can’t sufficiently articulate my awe at each group’s ability, each of which had perfected a slightly different style, to sing in tight, sometimes even dissonant, harmonies. And some of their long-held notes… I think the EMT on staff was getting ready to jump on stage to rescue one singer from self-induced asphyxiation at the end of one song!
Singing together has to be one of the most beautiful, bonding experiences. Anyone who has experienced this, either in as informal a setting as around a campfire or in a concert hall in front of an audience, knows this to be true. And it is addicting. At the ice cream social after the concert, even though they must have been exhausted after such an intensive weekend of rehearsals, small circles of people all over the cafeteria sporadically broke out in song, their bodies humming in perfect vibration as their voices blended.
This experience of community is only one of many benefits of singing together and making music in general. The boys’ directors wanted to make sure we parents knew this. “Promise you’ll never let your kids give up music? Promise?” “We promise!” we all shouted, knowing full well that any parent with a child at this particular camp would likely have little battle on their hands. These kids KNOW in their song-filled souls the power of music.
We are fortunate here in Rutland that it is a community rich with music. The music programs in the schools are strong — just the number and variety of groups at the high school are impressive — and, with the early string instruction, a national model. Grace Church and the Rutland Area Chorus have over the years gifted our community with the power of music, both liturgical and secular. Rutland’s Friday Night Live and other county towns’ music in their parks and on their greens showcase local and national musicians each summer. The Paramount Theatre gives the stage to musical talent, from our local youngest and newest through the Really Big Show and Rutland Youth Theatre, to 802 Music and the VSO, all the way across the spectrum to big national and international names. And there are so many other bands, choirs and groups that practice and perform here, too many to mention.
After singing in a Concert for Peace ten years ago, I wrote the following:
“The power of voice, the power of song, the power of people coming together. If all the world could sing together there could be no war. When we sing together we hear how every voice is as important and special as the next… Singing together gives a glimpse of the way the world SHOULD and COULD be.”
I hope that those kids singing their hearts out together on a stage in Worcester, Ma., students from around New England and all walks of life, take that feeling of connectedness out into their individual communities and help create it in other areas of their lives as they grow up. We all need it. Especially now.