At Levey Day School, students become comfortable expressing the music inside of themselves. And with this, they go into the larger community with the ability to communicate on so many levels. Mainer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captures it best: “Music is the universal language of mankind,” and Levey students learn to speak (or sing) this language beautifully.
On a typical morning, at a typical elementary school, students file into classrooms and take their seats. The chatter is incessant until the loudspeaker announces, “Please stand for the pledge.” Obliging dutifully, the kids stand, recite respectfully, and the day proceeds from there. It’s somewhere between a mantra and a prayer, and it happens in less than thirty seconds. The rest of the curriculum, aside from a designated music class, is usually not particularly rhythmic or melodic, and no one seems the worse for it.
At Levey the day begins with prayer, but it’s not simply the religion that resonates. The melodies – some traditional, some new – careen across the room, lodging themselves comfortably in the students’ heads. Sometimes while my daughter is brushing her teeth I can hear her humming the prayer we recite before taking out the Torah. I might also catch her whistling a tune from Hebrew class as she practices her cartwheels on the lawn. At synagogue she knows all the melodies, and it is second nature to her to sing; there is no self-consciousness about using her voice.
At school there is song before and after meals, music for every holiday, and music to accompany Hebrew lessons. There is also, of course, a traditional music class each week where the students not only sing but learn instruments from recorder to ukulele, and they are encouraged to incorporate instruments from outside lessons into class music productions. There are also performances. Some are school directed: singing for residents at the Cedars assisted living facility or singing the National Anthem at the Red Claws or Portland Pirates games. Others are self-initiated: almost every student sings or plays something of their choosing at the school’s annual Purim talent show.
It’s the music and spirit that I remember most from my own Jewish education, spending Shabbat by the lake at summer camp, the whole community singing together. There were many prayers and songs that had no literal meaning to me, but the mood evoked by their melodies returns even when I hear them as an adult. The confidence and sense of belonging that comes with singing in a group is something Levey teaches implicitly and explicitly, and it will stay with the students. The Hebrew language, the Jewish values, the strong secular studies — Levey has much to offer. But one aspect that sets it apart is the way musical expression is so central to the students’ school lives.
Alisha Goldblatt teaches eighth grade English at Greely Middle School and is the proud parent of a Levey Day School 5th grader who loves to sing.
Levey Day School Sings: