With the new tradition of First and Third Wednesdays, increased efforts by the Fanatics to bolster attendance at athletic events, the introduction of Cinema Sundays and our upcoming Festival to Spring, our school has worked hard, and pretty successfully thus far, to try to unite our largely diverse student body and create a greater sense of community. Though all-school events may be infrequent, we’ve appreciated the work to try to create an inclusive environment and the administration’s increased effort to bring in interesting speakers to help expand our perspectives and increase our worldview.
However, while this past annual Brown Family Assembly certainly exposed many students to a new form of art and a subject that many knew little to nothing about previously (opera and musical composition), it also left many students on the outside, unable to relate to and connect with such a specific topic.
Thomas Adès, world-renowned composer, pianist and conductor, spoke about and shared clips from his opera “The Tempest,” an adaption of Shakespeare’s original play. He also spoke to the Symphony and Shakespeare classes at the beginning of the day about his musical experiences.
These elective classes that contain students with specific interests in music or Shakespeare were an appropriate audience for our guest speaker. However, the general student body may not have been able to feel the same level of appreciation.
Last year, our annual Brown Family Assembly speaker was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ’88, who urged students to get involved in improving the city and shared a few of his memories as a student. His speech was more relatable to the school community, and his impact had a wider reach among the students.
Additionally, as an alumni of Harvard-Westlake, he could also relate to the student body in a way many other potential speakers would not have been able to. Personal anecdotes about faculty and staff still present at the Upper School added a touch that kept students engaged in his message.
While we are thankful for an opportunity to learn about Adès’ experience in adapting Shakespeare into opera and his foray into composing music, two subjects that are not typically a part of the average student’s experience at Harvard-Westlake, we want to encourage future all-school events to incorporate a broader spectrum of students’ interests and passions.
Yes, a select number of students could relate on a personal level and asked for advice on how to keep composition content fresh and where to get inspiration while composing. But this could have been done in a more intimate setting, and an opportunity for an all-school assembly that inspires more students and faculty members could have been taken.
On the other hand, we are thankful that the school provides an outlet for exposure to unfamiliar territories. We highly doubt that students at most other high schools will be able to say that on a Monday morning they got an opportunity to see an award-winning composer and conductor talk about his creative process. We only wish that perhaps in the future, a speaker of such impressive caliber can have more universal appeal to the Harvard-Westlake population.