It has been more than two years since Lower School students -- more than 500 of them -- climbed the risers in color-coordinated attire to sing, smile, and wave exuberantly at their grandparents in Burroughs Gym.
That's a long time to build up excitement. The students' energy was more than evident at Grandparents Day 2022: Welcome Home, a jubilant expression of the power of music to raise spirits and connect the community.
“This moment is long overdue!" said Lower School Director Michelle Alexander, surveying row after row of delighted grandparents in Burroughs Gymnasium. “Let's catch the joy today. Sing along! If you feel the need to move in your seat, do it!"
The program opened with a big “Yahoo," the first word of “Celebration," a 1970s feel-good popularized by Kool and the Gang, followed by “This is your celebration! Celebrate good times, come on!"
The program kept that spirit going with songs dedicated to Norfolk Academy's great traditions. Two worldwide hits from the Beatles, “Yellow Submarine" and “Octopus's Garden," often featured on children's albums, were on the program to spotlight Field Day, which will have the theme of “Under the Sea" this year. The Winter Musical this year is “The Music Man," which was the first musical performed when the Samuel C. Johnson Theater opened its doors, and one of its hit songs, “76 Trombones," was in the line-up.
The program shifted melodic gears with Beethoven's “Ode to Joy," which opened with a lyrical saxophone solo by Norfolk Academy's new band director, Jordon Crichlow. The song was a tribute to yet another school tradition: second graders participate in an educational concert with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra that features “Ode to Joy" with students singing or playing recorders along with it.
Students were accompanied throughout the Grandparents Day program by a band that blended faculty members--Crichlow, and sixth grader teacher Cosby Hall on guitar, and Assistant Lower School Director Phil Call on bass and saxophone--with two professional musicians, Michael Regan on Keyboard and Reid Stockdill on percussion. Sixth graders, the oldest students in the Lower School, served as narrators to introduce the pieces, all of them speaking their parts from memory.
Lower School Music Teacher Rebecca Peterson, who creates the Grandparents Day musical extravaganza from its theme to its theatrical flair, said that the pandemic gave performers and audiences alike a newfound appreciation of the importance of live music.
Throughout the pandemic, she spiced up music classes with rhythm exercises, musical analysis of sheet music, and the creation of homemade instruments, like drums made from Home Depot Buckets. But Covid prevented the one instinctive and joyful activity that students love--singing a song together.
Instead, Peterson often had students listen to songs, as she provided some explanation about the music and lyrics; then she encouraged them to sing at home. Of course, that wasn't the same, she said. “This year, we finally got to do everything the way we used to do it," she said. “We could sing from Day 1 and do all the activities we haven't done."
Usually, she is only acclimating first graders to the possibly challenges of singing in a mammoth Lower School chorus, standing and sitting on cue, and staying in unison. This year, Peterson had three grades of students who were a bit baffled by the concept of Grandparents Day.
“They put their trust in me," Peterson said, laughing. “I said to them in music class, 'It's hard to explain, but trust me, it's really cool!"
The performance closed on a high note with “From Now On," one of several hits from the movie musical, “The Greatest Showman." A touching introduction preceded the song: Drew '29, one of the sixth grader narrators, noted that Headmaster Dennis Manning will be retiring in June, but students said that he will always be welcome home at Norfolk Academy.
The song began with an ensemble of 10 sixth grade boys carrying the melody, and by the end, all 500+ students were singing with abandon: “And we will come back home. And we will come back home. Home, again!"
Afterward, they met their grandparents in their classrooms for more activities (and a few cookies), and then it was time to head home for Thanksgiving Break!