Sarah Pirtle was among the Children’s Music Network members who participated in a Day of Healing through the arts in Newtown, CT, in January. Here is her reflection, which follows upon an earlier piece by Sue Reier.
The gym was filled with families; it was standing room only. The collaboration of all the dance groups in town was part of the magic of the event, and there were a full variety of styles from Irish step dancing to jazz. Nancy Hershatter had brilliantly dreamed this event into being – by unifying all those in town involved with dance, she had given a chance for people of all ages to give back.
We watched every dancer pour their heart into their dance steps. It was like they were dancing back the life-force into the community.
At the very start, there was a delay while sound equipment was set up, and we needed to begin, so Sally Rogers suggested that I play the Native American style flute I’d brought. The sounds that came out were meant to wordlessly greet and honor and connect, and I felt myself trying to find melodies to send love to all those who had died and all those who love them.
We performed on gym mats and at first we were back from the audience with a gap in between. Then CMN’s singers began going up to the people in the front row, shaking hands, and later inviting the children to join us in motions and dance.
This culminated during “Turning of the World” when we invited twenty young girls to dance with us as Scott and Beth Bierko sang Ruth Pelham’s song.
They were standing next to us in black T shirts with words on the back like “faith” and “hope.” Using on the spot choreography, I began leading them, dancing in a circle, like a school of black fish. They were invited to take steps into the center, wave, make a turn around, then form a line, go under an arch of hands and take a leap one at a time. This melding of us singers and the children dancing bridged our groups together and connected us to the audience.
Sue Reier’s reflection has a great description of the songs we did. Here’s one that happened toward the end. We each had several songs planned, and the one that felt right was one that could make it possible for the children to dance again. I chose “My Roots Go Down” and the children were asked to get into small groups. Each verse suggested motions like forming a flower blooming, or trees swaying, or birds – and these images gave them a way to build their dances and work together to make a shape that connected them.
In the middle of the concert was another moment I’d like to describe because I had brought a song written specifically for Newtown. You know what it feels like to “deliver” a song like a package, like a bouquet?
Hold hands and stick together.
Hold hands when something shatters.
Hold hands. You’re not alone now.
Hold hands. Our hearts matter.
On December 14, I’d written that song and called my CMN friend Carole Stephens in Chicago to sing it to her. I wanted to create something simple and hopeful. Without saying so, the audience seemed to know it had been written for them. Then I looked behind, and everyone from CMN stood in one long line stretching out their hands as we joined in singing the words – “Hold hands.”
It was a moment I’ll never forget. You could hear a pin drop.
Sarah Pirtle is a founding member and past Board Member of CMN.