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Exporting the Revolution Reunion (2): An open letter to anyone who gives a rat’s ass about education

Note: The second of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions.

Dear Anyone Who Gives a Rat’s Ass About Education:

First off, thank you.

Secondly, never underestimate what you can learn watching something you’ve spent a year planning as it unfolds.

We were in the midst of the formal portion of the afternoon program – a part for which I’d taken ownership. I was simultaneously watching it and marveling at my own cluelessness.

By “we,” I mean approximately 70 of the 250 students and all four of the teachers who spent the first several months of the 1974-75 school year creating an original theater piece to commemorate upcoming US Bicentennial and the rest of that year and all of the next one performing it.

The reunion included a four-hour afternoon portion (free and open to all), followed by a catered dinner at a local restaurant ($25 and open to the first 100 people who made a reservation – 65 people bought tickets).

We wanted to keep things free form, so people could have plenty of time to reconnect and hang out.

The result was an afternoon and evening that mostly consisted of happy screeching, animated conversations and an impromptu post-dinner sing-a-long (with guitar accompaniment) for those interested in exploring the number of “American Pie” verses they remembered. Afterward, there were gatherings at a local bar and at the hotels where some of us stayed.

But Bob, who directed the theater department and had started the reunion ball rolling, had a copy of a 1975 film, “Making ‘Revolution.’” He wanted it to be a surprise at the reunion. With a running time of just under 10 minutes, it wasn’t long enough to stand on its own programmatically.

Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the top shot. This was after the festivities, and just before we called it a night.

Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the shot below, surrounded by a small portion of his Adoring Public.

We knew from the get-go that he & Ron, our orchestra director, would be there. Those two have never been out of touch with each other. But we also wanted our choral director and dance teacher. Jim and Kathy hadn’t stayed in touch with Bob and Ron, and they hadn’t imbibed the social media Kool-Aid. We turned to more analog methods to find them, and succeeded.

Bob (back to camera) yuks it up with Jim, Ron & Kathy.

Four people who care a lot about education. (L-R: Bob (back to camera), Jim, Ron & Kathy)

Suzi organized the dinner, and that's Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

Suzi organized the dinner, and that’s Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

So I put together a program. Our classmate Patty, who became a high school music teacher, was available to emcee. Jim wanted to speak first. Bob wanted to speak last. Kathy and Ron were happy to be in the middle of a teacher sandwich. Jim bravely agreed to end the program by leading us all in singing Peter Lukins’ setting of “The Lord Bless You & Keep You.” It was always the closer in high school chorus concerts.

We came, we saw, we sang.

We came, we saw, we sang. And Mr. Hanosh bravely led us. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

At the appointed time, we got everyone seated and the program started.

I can’t tell you directly what it feels like to address a bunch of people you were paid to deal with – and evaluate – 40 years ago, who have shown up because of something you made happen that seemed like a good idea at the time and you could. Based on what I saw, it feels pretty good.

What I hadn’t expected, though, was to realize that there was something revolutionary going on right at that moment, and right in that room.

I wanted every “expert” with an opinion about public education – particularly those in politics, educational policy or educational administration – to see it, and I wanted every parent and every person who cares about the future of education in this country to feel it.

If they did, maybe more contemporary students would have teachers working in the types of settings that generated the kinds of things our teachers said last Saturday afternoon.

We, the People, are the ones who need to make it happen.

I will leave you with our teachers’ words, and some links to video where you can actually see them being said. (Cynthia, one of my contemporary teacher pals, declared: “It sounds like Mad Men with teachers!” when I told her something about what was in the 1975 film. I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that there’s no way in Hell that you’d ever see one of today’s teachers on camera engaging in that behavior in any kind of work-related setting. Everything they were saying would have been drowned out by howls of outrage and screams about “Degenerate Bad Role Models” from smug Ignorami who are certain that teachers are lazy wastrels doing a job that they could do cheaper and better.)

Their words

“Where do you have a job where you go every day, and love what you’re doing and make music?”

“I could not wait to come to school – to work – in the morning. I loved every minute of every day I spent…If UFA were still open, they would have had to drag me out in chains, kicking and screaming before I would ever retire.”

“Over our careers, we were often asked to sit down and make sure we had enough statements available if someone asked us why the arts were necessary or what was significant…. It would be lovely to take a capsule of this and take it back, because you don’t see it until after the fact.”

“We started out as a group….and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and then we became a family.”

“I was only going to stay a couple of years and move on, but I kept getting these terrific kids and they kept coming and coming.”

“The fact that I wanted to do a dance class, (administration) could have said, ‘No, that’s not happening,’ and (the principal) didn’t. He said as long as the numbers warranted it, we could have it as an addition to gym opportunities. And then it kind of snowballed, so we were able to think about how, choreographically, it would help in musicals.”

Video Links

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOIDgZBDXJ0 – This is the speakers, no frills, nicely done. (Video credit: Calvin Powers)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJbXNAIPAmU – This is us, singing Lukins’ “The Lord Bless you & Keep You.” Mr. Hanosh was very relieved that we didn’t “find the lost chord!” (Video credit: Calvin Powers)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu5xE9FjRyk – This is the 1975 video, which was digitized from the original celluloid version, which had deteriorated. For that reason, the digitized version was sped up some. All props to Jim Houghtaling, who took the digitized version and did his best to restore it to the actual speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyHqne6B4KE – This one is quite long and expertly produced by Jim. It contains images from the reunion itself (probably not terribly interesting to anyone who didn’t go to school with us). Some of the speakers are edited, and there are reunion scenes. All the music is our high school selves on the recording we made at the time, and the 1975 film begins at about 25:52.

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arts education, community history, education, entertainment, high school reunion, personal history

Exporting the ‘Revolution’ reunion (1): Remarkable cluelessness and how to be in two places at once

Welcome to the first of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions. Given that it involved the event itself (a two-parter that included an afternoon and evening/dinner segment), a 1,500 mile sister road trip in which no eyeballs were scratched out, and many stops along the way (about which more when it is time, which it is not yet), it is worthy of more than a single post.

Revolution Reunion Post 1

Back in January, I wrote about co-chairing an upcoming summer reunion of my high school performing arts department. We were getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original theater piece we wrote – from scratch – to commemorate the US Bicentennial.

We were dumb high school kids who had no clue we were doing anything remarkable. And we were way too dumb to understand or appreciate that the teachers who’d decided a bunch of dumb high school kids could write and perform an original theater piece were several notches above remarkable.

Unusual, yes. That much we knew.

Returning to school after dinner on a weekly basis to hang around in the orchestra room wasn’t something friends in other high schools were doing. But it felt perfectly normal, once we got there on Wednesday nights, to noodle around inventing songs and grabbing classmates, or Mr. Hebert, when we hit on something we thought was interesting enough to share.

Meanwhile, over in the choir room, other students were singing melodies to Mr. Hanosh, who’d write them down and send them over to Mr. Hebert. Downstairs in the theater, they were writing narrative pieces with Mr. Barone, who taught English and ran the theater program. Once there were actual songs, Mrs. Schmidt, the dance teacher, began collaborating with her students on choreography.

The final result was this:

The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.

The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.

Program - page 2

Program – page 2

Program - Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a

Program – Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a “frill” to read this. Trust me, there is at least one future post on this topic.

Act 1

Act 1

Act 2

Act 2

The soloists and dancers

The soloists and dancers

The orchestra roster

The orchestra (I’m in here)

The choral roster - it goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.

The choral roster goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.

The rest of the choristers' names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think.....

The rest of the choristers’ names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think…..

Fast forward 39 years. “Revolution” might have seemed too far back to be visible in anyone’s rear-view mirror. But that line about objects being closer than they appear? Turns out, at least in this case, to have been spot-on.

As a Facebook newbie in 2014, Bob (formerly known as Mr. Barone) posted the idea of an event where we could come together, drink some wine and listen to the music together. Another classmate started a reunion group and within a day, membership exceeded 200. Bob’s reunion idea had sprouted legs, and the race was on.

The core planning committee (John and Jeannie and I) came together in August of 2014, and followed a process that closely mirrored the one used to create the original piece (minus the teacher-written Project Search Grant that funded the 1975 production). We all lived in different time zones, so we met over Skype and JoinMe.

This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but this is an actually committee meeting shot from January. And yes, I was in bed.

This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but it was taken during an actual committee meeting in January. And yes, that is me in bed (bottom).

This is, in part, what I wrote back in January when I thought (and wrote) that the best part of the reunion had already happened.

“I don’t remember when I last spent more time laughing with other people while getting real work accomplished. The three of us haven’t interacted in any meaningful way since high school. So it has been a joy to discover how much we still like each other, how compatible we are as a work team and how closely aligned our ideas and expectations are for the reunion.”

It turned out that that best part was the preamble to a whole lot more best parts.

By the time my sister and I arrived at Player’s Theater, other Committee members (we expanded our planning group based on evolving needs, at which point we’d reach out to other classmates based on their skill sets and proximity – and I’d also done my best to drag my sister into the planning process early on – she attended a couple of meetings and was a setup star) were hard at work. Jessica, who designed the reunion T-shirt based on Michael’s original logo design, was putting tape on the back of posters decorated with the reunion logo. Jeannie was setting up the screen and projector she’d borrowed from the library where she works, and John was setting up small round tables.

The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago.

The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago. You can see the original design on the program cover above.

I plopped myself down at one end of a table and continued working on the reunion playlist after having emptied the portfolio of memorabilia I’d hauled along – newspaper articles, two two-album cast recordings – one of the original production and one of the piece we’d done the year before (“Truth of Truths”), both signed on the inside, of course, by castmates and teachers.

Debby (my sister, who graduated a year behind me and played violin in the orchestra) still had her T-shirts from both performances. Everyone else had their memorabilia, but Debby was the only one with two T-shirts. She took Jessica’s posters and the loose news stories and pictures and started setting up displays around the room.

One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!

One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!

Bob showed up with a box. He began hanging banners and posters from other high school productions, and the drama group banner.

He hauled in a display board with newspaper clippings.

Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.

Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.

Before it was all over, Suzi had stopped by to say hello, (she’d done all the heavy lifting for the Saturday dinner that followed the afternoon event) and two Michaels – one the original logo designer and the other a sax player who’d become a high school music teacher. We’d tapped the latter Mike to co-emcee the formal part of the Saturday program along with Patty, because they both became high school music educators. But his band was playing a wedding they’d booked more than a year prior, so Patty was doing a solo act.

Revolution Setup Crew

The Revolution Reunion Setup Crew! (Photo credit: Audrey Pavone)

Mike was so crushed about having to miss the Saturday event that he made the four-hour round-trip drive from Binghamton to help out with setting up. It was so amazing to see him, and to catch up on everything we’d been doing since we last saw each other….sometime in, oooh….the mid 1970s.

As we were leaving Player’s to head over to Gerber’s for what turned out to be a fabulous dinner, he walked over to his car, lifted the tailgate, reached in and grabbed something. Then he walked over and started handing us each copies of his jazz combo’s recent CD.

“You just made the playlist!” I said, “Which means you’ll be here tomorrow!”

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