I returned to campus a week ago as a Student Leader, and the first Sing wasn’t for three whole days. That may not sound like very long, but you must understand that in Putney Time, three days is almost three weeks. It was during that first, much anticipated and cherished Sing that I had an epiphany: a Putney School Sing, properly done of course, is a reflection of the Putney lifestyle. I will explain, but first, allow me to describe possibly one of the most beautiful, creative and challenging traditions here at the Putney School.
As my friend describes it, Sing is an “explosion of energy”. At one moment you may find joy, nostalgia, competition, tradition, calm, confusion or exhaustion. However, you will always find passion, union and eccentricity. At Sing respect and mockery can join in the same event, and impatience and imperturbability can reign. Sing is a unique experience to every person, and yet it is also a moment when all raise their voice in praise of the music they make and the power it seems to hold as it reverberates through the air. This is not to say every student sings on pitch or knows their part’s harmony, nor that the entirety of the school revels at every Sing. However, when they all do get their part just right, when the school rises as one for a specific song, when Cailin raises his hand to hold that moment just one second longer, and when each part settles in their discovered note and holds it: 220 some teenage students and faculty sing together on a hilltop. And that is as incredible as it sounds.
This first Sing was overflowing with energy and excitement. Looking at the faces in the room, both those of the new students and the returning leaders, you could see the passion and spirit being thrown into each song. Putney students put their heart and soul into life here. I always say that you can’t come to Putney and float along, you won’t get as much from it, you have to live it. Just as we don’t just sing a perfect tune, but instead personalize it, shouting, clapping and sometimes dancing our enthusiasm, so do we as students live and learn with vivacity. The passion in Sing is truly a moment of energetic living, sparked and exposed by music.
Sing also allows for a chance to reveal the roles we carry in our community. As a senior who loves Sing and has since her freshman year, I have challenged myself to go through my senior year Sings without a songbook. Simply because I think I know the songs that well. I am not the only one, yet every Sing we are all proved wrong at least once. Putney surprises us all, constantly, in Sing, but especially in the lives we live daily. As Albus Dumbledore said “Oh, I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts’ secrets…” We seniors especially tend to dream we know it all. Though we enjoy pretending, we are ever proved wrong in that awkward moment during a verse of an old favorite when suddenly we are all just humming. In days that could seem to become repetitive or even predictable in such a close community for such long days at a time, we somehow are refreshed in energy but the unknown, however small it may be.
Lastly, Sing connects. We have songs from Afghanistan, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, France, Mexico, South Africa and more places all over the world. Many of them are favorite songs that inspire moving moments every year. In the four years I have been at Putney I have had friends from many of the same countries. Each and every one making their mark upon the community and the school, and adding their voice to Sing. Over the summer, when my sister (class of 2008) returns home from France, we sing our favorite Sing songs. She has shared music from Putney all over the world, and it continues to connect us wherever we go. Sing inspires me, like the school it represents. The Putney lifestyle is one of learning and challenging, being loud and yet appreciating the silence. If you want to know Putney students, their community and lifestyle they lead, I suggest you come to campus on Thursday morning, and listen as you walk towards Calder Hall. See if you can name what it is that saturates the air and makes the wild adolescent calmly sing. And then see if you can get the song out of your head.