Giggles, heart-warming smiles and laughter combined with lessons of tolerance and kindness… and guess where I was? Backstage at Pawling High School on Wednesday night, before Peter Yarrow’s concert! The event was sponsored by Pawling Public Radio’s Education Committee in partnership with Yarrow’s organization Operation Respect (http://www.operationrespect.org/).
This concert was a culmination of months of planning, practicing, and luck. The children, from Pawling Elementary School, Pawling Middle School and Mizzentop Day School, guided by their respective music teachers, learned four songs to sing with Peter: “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Blowin’ In the Wind” and “Don’t Laugh At Me” – which is Operation Respect’s “theme song”.
As I watched Mr. Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame talk and laugh with our town’s children, I was reminded of how easy it is to commit random acts of kindness and respect each other. The night was filled with music, singing and discussions on acceptance and his philosophy about how and where hate starts. He suggested some simple ways to stop the cycle of bullying. I sang along behind the scenes with my fellow volunteers to the songs that I have known since my childhood, “This Land is Your Land” and “This Little Light of Mine”, which were unrehearsed with the children (they had practiced four pre-determined songs in previous weeks).
The children alternately sat and stood throughout the concert that lasted almost two hours. They accompanied Peter in the songs he simply began to play to the capacity crowd. They sang, laughed, and actively participated in the entire show – all the while being taught about tolerance.
The lessons were expertly and effortlessly woven into the lyrics, by one of the greatest folk singers of our time. I was moved by the music and proud to be a part of the entire production for many reasons: one being that I am a Board member of PPR (one of many volunteers who helped bring Peter’s program to our schools), another being that I am part of this community full of beautiful children and teachers who truly care about the future; and lastly, I was proud to be an American – an integral part of a country where it is acceptable to be different. Mr. Yarrow’s message was that each of us can make a difference – every single day. We can choose to be kinder, more respectful and to not tease or hurt each other. Simple words. The children seemed to have gotten the message and I think that the packed house at the concert “got” it too if the standing ovation at the end of the concert was any indicator.
Thank you Peter Yarrow, Mark Weiss, and the wonderful student singers who we are all helping to nurture to become happy, healthy adults. I say peace definitely has a chance.
Lisa DiMaggio-D’Ottavio is a PPR Board member and a member of their Education Committee.
Photographs Courtesy of Maria Morris