Learning empathy, love and vulnerability through music

Into the Silent Land imageBy Eric Laprade
“What is essential is invisible to the eye” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As Music Director of South Shore Conservatory’s (SSC) Summer Music Festival, I have had the privilege of calling South Shore Conservatory “home” for the last 17 summers. As a young student at SSC, the institution inspired me to pursue a lifetime of teaching music to young people. My greatest mentors have taught, and continue to teach at SSC. I’ve met my closest friends here, and had some of the deepest and most profound musical experiences of my life in the Jane Carr Amphitheater. The powerful words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery illustrate what I have come to believe makes South Shore Conservatory so vital to the community and the people it serves. While music is the vehicle we use to teach—violin lessons, wind ensemble, rock band—what we are teaching goes much deeper: creativity, empathy, love, vulnerability.

The words intent, relevance and social change guide all of my work at South Shore Conservatory. I often remind our faculty at Summer Music Festival that what makes our program and SSC so special and unique is not ‘what’ we do, but rather ‘how’ and ‘why’ we do it. We believe musicians are one of the greatest vehicles for social change, and that, through our music-making and teaching, we can improve the lives of others around us. This is what we do at Summer Music Festival (SMF).

This past summer, SMF had the opportunity to perform a powerful new musical composition by composer Steve Danyew. Mr. Danyew attended grades three through five at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and was commissioned by a group of schools, including South Shore Conservatory, to compose a piece that reflected upon the Sandy Hook massacre. Our students had the privilege to present the Massachusetts premiere of Into the Silent Land.

The students who performed Into the Silent Land ranged in age from 14-19 years old. They came from19 different communities across the region and before July 12, 2018 they had never played a single note together. This project reinforced my belief that music brings us together and creates community. In a world fill with negative and opposing rhetoric, music breaks down walls and allows us to work towards goals that are far greater than any of us could accomplish on our own.

As our students began to study and experience Mr. Danyew’s music, the emotional impact of the piece became apparent. They found themselves connecting with the music, understanding the composer’s intent, and feeling the power of the narrative, “Remember me when I am gone away. Gone far away into the silent land…” It is hard not to perform Mr. Danyew’s music without being deeply affected.

Although at SMF we believe in using music as a vehicle to nurture the souls and minds of our students, the Steve Danyew project left me wondering who was actually teaching whom. I left this project a profoundly different person because of our students and because of the music.  What we accomplished goes so much deeper than any musical note, any alternate fingering on the clarinet, or any sticking technique. This project reminded me that our students’ potential is only limited by what we, their teachers, believe they are capable of. I witnessed 57 human beings give all of themselves—mentally, physically, and artistically—to a common goal and to a common good. Our students did this with a maturity, poise, and intellect that is a model for all of us.

I have been fortunate, as both a student and a teacher, to experience the life-changing impact of South Shore Conservatory. I encourage you to visit and experience this special place for yourself and for your children.

Summer Music Festival 2019, for woodwind, brass and percussion students, is July 11 – 26 at South Shore Conservatory’s Hingham campus. For more information please visit sscmusic.org/smf. To listen to the making of Into the Silent Land, visit https://youtu.be/vuGMrGCN-Hk.


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