Monday, July 16, 2012

Esperanza Academy Summer Music Camp

I spent last week at Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center in Byfield, MA with the entering 5th grade class of Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, MA. Esperanza is a free tuition Episcopal School for girls (mostly Latinas, in grades 5-8). Everyone sang and played percussion. We had a blast learning music, building community, and tossing out words like loquacious and parody (I know you're wondering how those particular words came to be chosen).

I wrote about this project at the beginning of the year here, and between the school and the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, the keepers of Adelynrood, everything came together and exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot, the girls learned a lot, and hardly any children were harmed, although we did unintentionally scare one. I also tried my best to lose a few of them at the beach, but every time I counted they were all still there, asking questions like: "Miss! Are there fish in that water? I'm not going in if there are fish!" That particular question called to mind the W.C. Fields joke about water, which would have been highly inappropriate to relate to 10 year-old girls. Besides, if I'd told it, none of them would have gone swimming, which is, after all, the point of going to the beach.

Every morning my alarm was set for 6:58 AM, but I awoke at 6:15 to the sound of four or five girls standing outside my room, their stacked heads peeking through the doorway, asking "Is she awake?" followed by a loud "Shh, she's still sleeping!" After the third time hearing the same call and response, it seemed only right to reply "She's awake." They'd come on in and tell me about the bug in someone's hair, whose hair sticks up in the morning like antennae, who was being mean, who was still asleep (not for long), who missed their mom or dad, who was hot or cold, who had almost fallen out of bed in their sleep, whose foot had miraculously appeared outside the covers, and who wanted a padded bra for Christmas (these kids are planners). Then they'd disappear and giggle their way to the next room. Sweet. Sweet. Sweet. One of my friends said the giggling is even better than prayer. I agree wholeheartedly.

A couple of the girls have infectious laughs and are happy morning people. I am not a morning person, but since I got home, I've been waking up very early. On the first day home after camp, I missed them. I also missed checking on them at night to make sure they were in their beds and trying to go to sleep. There's nothing like that last bed check (the fourth or fifth) when they are all sound asleep. Adorable.

I woke up this morning at 8 AM to that peaceful, easy quiet that wasn't an option last week, and kinda missed the racket and the giggling stacked heads. As I ate breakfast, there was no one to say "Sit here!" or to ask "What are we having for lunch? or "Will we have a snack? What will it be?" or my favorite: "Do we have to do music again today?"

We learned the usual notes, rests, scales, time signatures, key signatures, drummed some drums, practiced listening, learned to sing rounds, echo songs, some harmony, learned how to use a hula hoop, played games, had a campfire, made s'mores, went to the beach, where we saw the HMS Bounty replica in Gloucester Harbor; took a tour of the C.B. Fisk Organ Factory, played the organ and piano at St. John's Episcopal Church in Gloucester, laughed a lot, cried some, got over it, ate way too much sugar and other weird stuff (1c. ketchup on 1c. rice?).

I became an expert remover of splinters. Why I was the only adult capable of removing splinters remains unexplained. Next year I'll have to requisition a splinter removal kit.

Two of the girls wrote songs and sang them for us. A bunch of them love to sing and would join a choir if there was one at the school. Another wants to learn piano, and has the patience and focus to do it. My bedroom was directly above the piano, and I heard her patiently exploring the black notes for about 25 minutes, letting them ring, combining them and listening. I sneaked downstairs about fifteen minutes into the improvisation to see who it was, because it was quite beautiful and musical. Anybody wanna buy some piano lessons? Drop me a line. These kids were all musical, and I'd like to help keep it that way.

I am so grateful for my colleagues Mark Nelson, Carol Doran, and Caitlin Bixby, the advisor to the 5th grade class, and math teacher. Kathleen at C.B. Fisk, Inc. Designers and builders of organs led a great tour with help from Mark. The girls loved it. I'm also grateful for all the Companions at Adelynrood, especially those who helped us during the week: Louise (without whom I would have died), Ruth, Emily, and Marge. I cannot thank them enough. Kate, Carolyn, and the kitchen staff offered gracious hospitality and patience while surrounded by running, laughing, starving girls.

We prayed every morning and sang all day long. There was a Service of Intercession on Wednesday and we sang. The Principal dropped by for an afternoon (we sang for her, too), and on the last day, the Headmaster came and sang with us. He can sing. The girls were surprised by this, and also terrified of him (heh heh heh).

As the Headmaster and I were walking out after the singing, I suggested that we could do it again next year, possibly make it one day shorter and lose the beach day. He countered with "I was thinking of two weeks, and we can bring the whole school." I told him I didn't think I had two weeks in me, and he said maybe ten days, and that we could add some academics so it wouldn't be so much work.

Ahem. Even though I can see how ten days might be no different than two weeks, I'd love to.


  1. Katherine Bradley JohnsonJuly 21, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Ana, what an inspiring story! I'm not rich enough to make a difference by myself, but might there be a music fun for Esperanza Academy?

  2. Most people can't make a difference by themselves, but every little bit helps. I'm sure that if you contact the school, they'll be able to figure out a way to designate a donation.

  3. How I love reading your blog posts! See you very soon!! -Luke