The View From Here

Back to School

Back to School

by Janet Durgin, Head of School

This week, we are all in a “back to school” frame of mind. Whether we were participating in Intersession trips to exotic locales like Bali, Patagonia, or Ireland, visiting colleges, enjoying a mellow “staycation” closer to home, or working away on an almost eerily quiet campus, we were all afforded a chance to step away from the daily grind for a bit...only to return to a school gearing up for the end-of-the-year crush. We are shaken out of our spring break stupor, aware that the busiest part of the year is right on the horizon.
I’ve been going “back to school” a bit, myself, lately. Twice a week, I walk away from my desk and head to Amanda’s Choir Exploratory. Among a growing number of students and staffulty members, I lift my voice in song and feel the chaos of the day fade away. For that magic 45 minutes, I am a student again.
Since she arrived this fall, Amanda -- a real pedagogical pied piper -- has revolutionized our music program. The choir has quadrupled in size, and students and staffulty alike are drawn to it, including our Oona, Irma, Summar, Dan and Rebecca from the admin corridor and teachers like Dan and Marco. I first heard the choir sing when I dropped into Amanda’s class last quarter. The beautiful music brought me to tears, but I was also struck by the unbridled joy evident on the students’ faces as they watched their conductor, who wore the biggest smile of all. I was inspired to talk about the choir in my Big Night Out remarks and then decided it was time for me to overcome my fear of singing in public and join the choir.
I love singing in the choir because it challenges me in so many ways. It  engages body, brain, and soul. It’s both a personal endeavor -- I must read and learn the music and train my own voice-- but it’s also a deeply communal experience. There are studies that show that singing in a choir is associated with greater joy and empathy for others. To be a part of a choir, you have to really learn to listen: to your close neighbors, to the whole ensemble, to the soloists, even to the silences when a song ends.
We work hard, but we have so much fun. Sometimes, as part of practice, we turn to one another, making eye contact and singing “how are you doing today?” It’s such a joyful and meaningful exercise, one that never fails to make me break out in a huge grin. I can feel barriers breaking down; I am making new friends as I make music, and I am making progress as I develop my vocal skills.
I asked the choir to perform at Big Night Out last month, not only because the music they make is is moving and memorable, but because the choir seems to me to be a metaphor for what we are trying to do here. We want to engage our students head, hand, and heart. We want them to have the confidence to stand on stage without fear. We want them to learn when to lend their voices to the group and when to take the microphone and shine on their own. And the choir is a community made up of many different kinds of people -- students, teachers, administrators -- all working toward a common goal, supporting one another and listening to one another, an oasis in a busy, sometimes stressful world.
Part of the end-of-the-year craziness this spring includes preparations for our new performing arts center. I’m having conversations with architects, engineers, our facilities team, and with our Performing Arts teachers, Jen and Amanda. We brainstorm about what this new building will be like and the amazing impact it will have on our students. As we look ahead to this exciting development, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a Performing Arts student myself, feeling firsthand the benefits of this kind of education with these gifted teachers.

Sonoma Academy Is...

Sonoma Academy is the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.