'Life's music is everywhere,' Tourtellotte Memorial High School graduates told

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Fri., Jun. 21, 2013
Valedictorian Lauren Biernacki speaks to the audience at Tourtellotte Memorial High School's commencement on June 20. Photos by D. Coffey.
Valedictorian Lauren Biernacki speaks to the audience at Tourtellotte Memorial High School's commencement on June 20. Photos by D. Coffey.

Valedictorian Lauren Biernacki addressed the audience at the Tourtellotte Memorial High School graduation on June 20. Biernacki won numerous academic awards during her four years in high school. She was recognized for her community service and excellence in science, social studies, world language and art. But when she came to give her speech to her classmates and the families and friends gathered for the graduation ceremony on June 20, she spoke of music.

Biernacki recounted a Washington Post story about virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell. The 46-year-old Bell has an impressive resume. He's been the music director of the Academy of St. Martins in the Field. He's been on the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Royal Academy of Music in London, and Indiana University; he's been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. He's collaborated with some of the best musicians in the world. In 2007, Bell took his violin to a D.C. metro station once and played for 45 minutes. Few people stopped to listen. Some left money, but it was a paltry amount: a few dollar bills, some nickels, dimes and quarters.

This was a musician so accomplished that he made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 17 years old. The same musician who has sold out concerts across the country didn't draw much notice on the train platform in Washington. One man leaned against a wall to listen for a few minutes, but then looked at his watch and left. Some children wanted to stop, but they were pulled along by their parents.

“A virtuoso violinist played some of the greatest pieces of music ever written on a $3.5 million violin, and only seven people stopped to listen,” Biernacki said. She urged her fellow graduates not to get so caught up in school or careers that they would forget to stop and listen. “Life's music is everywhere,” she said.

If proof was needed, the evening provided plenty of it. The graduates had one of the most beautiful evenings in June for their outdoor ceremony. They were greeted by a group of parents and faculty who  pinned carnations on their gowns, fixed ties, and helped arranged caps before the procession. And when the graduates finally made their way through a sea of family members, they did so to a stately rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Advice was offered from different corners, enough to reach every one of the 82 graduates who presented a sea of red and black to the audience. Whether they were going into the military, heading off to jobs, or going to college, there were words to applaud, encourage and guide. Superintendent of Schools Michael Jolin urged them to listen. First Selectman Larry Groh, Jr., told them to call on the tools their teachers, coaches and advisors had given them when faced with challenges in the future. Principal Dr. Penny Hebert reminded them to think about their community, wherever their lives took them.

But the sound of the band performing “Shenandoah” was exactly what Biernacki meant when she spoke about the music of life being all around. It was in the facial gestures and focused direction given by music director Kate Anderson. It was in the gentle way the small band opened the score. It was in the plaintive, bittersweet longing of the music they offered the crowd. No one sang the words to the song, but love was in the music coming from the woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.  When they finished, Anderson looked at her band students and put her hands over her heart. It was a fitting gesture for the community gathered to see the graduates off.

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