Concert celebrates the common good
Every four years, Reaching Heights, a community-based organization that supports our public schools, mounts an all-district musical extravaganza, Reaching Musical Heights, at Severance Hall. The concert features vocal and instrumental performances by children from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights elementary and middle schools, and Heights High. On March 5, nearly 600 young musicians graced the stage of the elegant hall and ignited joy, pride and hope.
Severance Hall communicates dignity, excellence, tradition and reverence for music. Reaching Musical Heights properly positions our community’s children within that milieu.
For the fifth time in 20 years, our community had the opportunity to be transfixed by our children. For many of those on the stage and in the audience, the concert was an introduction to a world-class architectural treasure, that was, for that moment, all ours! Krista Hawthorne, the executive director of Reaching Heights, and her team of music teachers and community volunteers produced an evening with hundreds of moving parts that ran like a top. The performances by 11 different ensembles were equally perfect.
The 140-member Elementary Honor Choir, with its delightful synchronized hand motions orchestrated by music teacher Tamar Gray, set the tone for the evening. Our youngest musicians brought down the house and inspired tears of joy. The excitement continued as middle school musicians performed in a choir, an orchestra and a band.
The second half focused on Heights High’s panoply of musical opportunities, including the Gospel Choir, Barbershoppers, Heights Singers and A Cappella choir. The Jazz Ensembles, Symphonic Winds and Symphonic Band showed their musical strength. The moving evening ended with a glorious performance of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” which filled the stage with the 48-piece Heights High Symphony Orchestra and the 85 voices of the choirs. It was a long evening, but I didn’t want it to end. I would have been happy for encores all the way around!
This one-of-a-kind event evoked overwhelming feelings of pride—pride in our children, our music, our educators, our school district, and our community. Good feelings abounded throughout the concert hall and lingered afterward. People of all generations were there to be entertained by our youth and to communicate to them that they matter to all of us. My children grew up in our schools and are long gone, but every child on the stage was mine.
Every penny paid to create the event, every drop of energy that went into its production and promotion, and every minute spent at the concert was worth it. The connections we all made with our children and one another were priceless.
Public education benefits all of us, whether we have children who use the public schools or not. As taxpayers and voters, we are the guardians of our schools and our students. Whoever they are, their growth and development are important to all of us. They are ours.
Most students are strangers to the community that invests in them. At Reaching Musical Heights, we got a glimpse of those strangers. We got to enjoy their talents and recognize them as a community of learners.
I advocate for public education because it is a profound expression of our country’s commitment to the common good. We invest public funds in a system of common schools of high quality, because an educated citizenry is essential to our democracy. The concert reminded us that supporting the future of our young people, whoever they are, is worth it.
Susie Kaeser is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.