Dispatches from Incarnation Center – Issue TwoOctober, 2020
A Letter from the Head of School, Amy Francisco
As I walk my dog around the fields and forests of Incarnation Center every morning, I have been astonished by the changing colors of the leaves. Having grown up in New England, the fall colors are certainly not new to me. This year, however, I find myself noticing the bursts of color as a single tree turns from tan to deep scarlet, seemingly overnight, and suddenly stands apart from all of its neighbors. I see, each day, how the same copse of trees across the lake has deepened and changed in sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic ways. What an appropriate backdrop these trees provide for the transformational work our germ-sharing pod has accomplished over these last few weeks. All of us who have taken part in it leave this experience different people than we were when we began. For myself, I leave with a reinvigorated sense of purpose, hope, and faith. Our entire school community has become more closely interwoven and more deeply interconnected than ever before, sustained and prepared for whatever this year unlike any other throws our way in the coming months.
Watching the seasons turn in our beautiful, temporary home, I am struck by how appropriate it is that each school year begins with this autumnal transformation. The coming of autumn this year feels like a particularly potent reminder of the growth and change that children constantly experience, and of their infinite capacity for renewal. Over our time together at Incarnation Center, I have watched the boys experience so many triumphs and joys, both big and small: the sixth grader who has been promoted into the semi-chorus and won his first choir MVP for a service; the self-proclaimed seventh grade “nonreader” who has been so hooked by his book for English class that he is reading it during his free time; the fourth grader who stopped several eighth graders’ shots on goal in the House soccer games; the fifth grader who said to his roommates at night that all of his classmates were his best friends since they spent so much time having fun together; and the eighth graders who overcame the nerve-wracking challenge of serving as cantors at our lakeside Wednesday evening Compline services. These sparks of joy give us the passion and purpose that drive everything we do as a community of teachers and learners.
I am so grateful for all of the courage, commitment, and communal spirit on display each and every day in this brief window of time together, and I am so proud of how much the boys have grown as musicians, students, and people in such a short span. Not only are they singing, they are sounding much like they did in March as they tackle new and challenging music for each of our three weekly services. Not only are they attending school, they are throwing their all into it, and taking it seriously despite their unorthodox surroundings. Not only are they spending time playing and living with each other, they are demonstrating their kindness, goodness, and brotherly love for one another each and every day. The Saint Thomas Choir School is always a special place to teach and to learn, but this time at Incarnation Center has revealed the especially remarkable heart of the school. This experience, just like our school, is truly one of a kind. Thank you for the support, hard work, and constant faith that has made it possible.
A Letter from the Director of Music, Dr. Jeremy Filsell
As our final weeks in rural Connecticut, Incarnation life for the boys and faculty alike had settled into a neat rhythm. The boys remained happy and healthy and continued to rejoice visibly in each other’s company. It was wonderful to see inter-grade relationships develop as this unique brotherhood grows and thrives. While we investigate ways in which we can operate as a school and choir back in New York in the future, we give thanks for having had this wonderful time in Connecticut. From my own musical standpoint, it has been so gratifying to help nurture the boys’ singing, in this fourth week, back to the standard and communicability where I feel we left off last March. It took four intensive weeks to get to this musical point, but it is heartening to realize that these things can be restored. It is my hope and prayer that we are back together at church before too long.
The boys have learnt much new music together at this time (including a Mass setting I wrote for them in August – a Missa in tempore enim pestlilencia!), and the upgrades in concentration and skill level have been tangible. We have so enjoyed singing in the space at St. James, accompanied by the remarkable instruments on loan to us from Steinway and Viscount. Members of the faculty have helped refine our video capabilities recently too, so, with luck, there will be good content to remind ourselves in the coming months of what was.
The challenges of running the church’s music remotely, as well as the return of the Gentlemen of the Choir to singing services at Saint Thomas, have meant that I needed to return to New York after our fourth week at Incarnation. Thus, the boys have finished working for these final two weeks with my marvelous colleagues Mr. Haigh and Mr. Quardokus, enjoying being musically harangued by a different face for a change! We are all so grateful for having had this unusual opportunity for the boys to continue their musical, academic and social life.
A Letter from Ms. Christine Hruska, Director of Studies and English Teacher
As John Muir, a passionate supporter of the National Parks once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Having visited and hiked at many of our national parks, I have found truth in this sentiment. With this thought in mind, I thought we might be able to capitalize on our setting at the Incarnation Center and use our poetry mini-unit as a way to work on learning to write texts that examine a topic and convey an idea. Being able to use outdoor space as an extension of our classroom has given the boys a unique opportunity to commune with their beautiful surroundings. Seventh grade boys took part in a nature walk during their English class, armed with their journals and a writing implement. They were asked to remain as quiet as possible as I brought them to three different locations around the camp with the purpose of observing nature and paying close attention to their five senses. The boys were encouraged to consider how each space might feel to them on an emotional level. Taking the task seriously, the boys began filling up pages with notes at each stop. Over the next several days, the boys worked to produce a clear and coherent paragraph rich in description and imagery, with the goal of conveying to an audience the experience they had. Next, the seventh graders played with language, style, and poetic elements as they pulled poems from their paragraphs. The results are simply beautiful and reflect their experience as well as their dedication to the craft of informational writing in the form of poetry.
Academic rigor and accountability are abundant at Incarnation. Teachers and students continue to make good use of our time together to form strong academic foundations and trusting working relationships. The idea of coming to Incarnation to teach, work, live, and sing together seemed fantastical in the planning stages, yet as I look at the accomplishments of the students in their studies and the dedication of the teachers to create robust curricula, I have to agree with John Muir once more in that, “the power of the imagination makes us infinite.”
Seventh Grade’s Nature-Inspired Poetry:
A Fall Day
by Will (NY)
A gentle storm brushing up against my skin
The tall brown oak tree with its rough bark and the endless light blue sky marking their limit
Vines and moss energetically scaling up the top where too many branches block the growth
Acorns crashing against the ground
It was a beautiful sight showing the death of nature
I felt like I was lost in the beauty of life in the forest
by Fernando (NJ)
Total tranquility was in the air; you could
sense the calmness by looking at the water
The water was so still, and
the wind was moving the water towards the right
It was warm and hot on land but freezing cold in the water
And you rarely saw ripples in the water
The air was still, and the breeze was calm
The lily pads were surrounding the dock,
and they were all crowded, talking to one another
right above the water’s surface
when I looked at the water
the tree’s reflection was visible to me
And if you listened closely the
only thing you heard was a chickadee
In the distance, chirping; chirping
almost as if they were singing.
by Max (NY)
The water is like glass
The occasional tweet of a bird echoes off the rocks
. . .
The beautiful leaves dying off their tree
The mile-long river looks like it has no end
You can see the dam through the thin branches
The reflection of trees in the still lake stands out in the sun
The boats lightly tap each other to the rhythm of the breeze
A red tree hangs over the lake like fire on water
There is a slight whistle to the wind that makes the air feel alive.
And when you wait a minute you are swept from all of your stress and emotions
Almost as if the world is there for your comfort
by Wells (MA)
Everything is calm, you could only hear the crickets chirping and the trees swaying in the wind.
The water is clear and desolate, unrippled.
As a branch fell from a tree that was the only other sound.
I heard a bird start to chirp its first song of the day, and the trees turning all the colors of fall, the royal golden yellow, and the melancholy brown.
The air is clean and the smell is hardly noticeable among the trees and dirt.
I felt at peace there looking at the reflection the trees cast on the water, and as the trees swayed and the wind whistled all was good.
The Tranquil Forest
by Mich (MA)
Human constructs are a stain to nature’s beauty
. . .
Let us find more beautiful natural sites
Let us feel the forest with our senses
Let us see the trees as they sway
. . .
Let us hear the singing of the birds and the chirping of the crickets
Let us feel the wind as it whistles through the air
. . .
Let us feel the ground as we follow our way
Let us know that we are part of the earth
Let us not sully the forest with our objects
Let us find peace in this forest
The Beauty of Nature
by Harrison (TN)
The waterfront with the smells
Of wet tree bark and
River water. The trees like tall giants stuck in their place and
Small bushes by the flowing
Water soothing me and are
Making me calm. Lily pads floating
with calming purpose. The beautiful moss
on the trees, where the birds chirp
. . .
The bountiful beauty of nature.