The first thing that struck me about last night’s opening session was the marching band. They started with a warm-up in front of the hotel around 5:00 and it was something you really couldn’t miss. The lined up on the sidewalk and they played, they marched in place, the dancers danced, the sousaphones swayed from side to side and the drum line worked that drum line combo of all-business and too- cool that makes drum lines famous. I stood on the sidewalk, grinning like a loon, while a crowd gathered. To the musicians, this was rehearsal. We were an inconsequential group of onlookers and we were under no circumstances going to distract them from the task at hand.
That’s why I love marching bands. I played in one (Rock on Maryville Marching Spoofhounds!) and I’ve always loved the oxymoron of something so goofy (just the hats are enough to make that qualification) combined with something requiring so much fierce precision, determination and commitment. It’s a lot like teaching, now that I think of it…
Anyway, the marching band turned out to be the opener for the Opening Session. They marched in, graced us with just enough of their mojo to make us want just a bit more, and then they left us to Lewis Cohen (director of CES) and Gloria Ladson Billings. Gloria’s remarks were amazing- eventually you’ll be able to find them here, but give us a little time to get them up there. She focused on Katrina as a metaphor for the failure of education and it was powerful, to say the least.
What was more powerful, though, was the closing. After a short, heartfelt tribute to the late Ted Sizer, the Encore Singers from Upper Darby, PA High School sang their goodbye and thanks to Ted. Their first piece was called Homage by Z. Stroop. Written by three musicians as a tribute to their deceased fathers, the lyric was not only hauntingly appropriate, but also exactly on target for what many of us were feeling. They followed up, joined by a group of students from Live Oak Elementary School here in New Orleans, with You Raise Me Up, which left us feeling inspired and moved…and ready to head to the reception to connect with our friends. Luckily, the musicians joined us and sang us into good spirits by the end of the evening.