Conference, Community, and CMN
By Dorothy Cresswell
After a rather zany taxi adventure at O’Hare Airport, I WAS THERE! I marveled at where I found myself, squeezed into the van with national and international award-winning, warm-hearted mentors and brand-new best friends. As a classroom teacher, I was careful to steer kids away from the term “best friend” to avoid hurt feelings and would ask the children to use instead “friend” or “good friend.” Now, I have a confession. I have learned something. In the wonderful world of CMN, a person can have loads of “best” friends. Some of them you’ve known for only one minute. Some of them you’ve corresponded with for months on the forum and are only just now meeting face to face. Some of them you haven’t met yet! But all of them have souls and songs and smiles and encouragement: best friend traits for me! In no time at all we had learned that our taxi driver was a children’s musician from Morocco, and we were making international friends and harmonies. This weekend was off to a great start!
We each grabbed our luggage and headed into the conference center. A wave of lustrous singing washed over me from the crowd gathered informally around a piano, then I was scooped into a welcoming embrace by a beaming Liz Benjamin. Liz had come all the way from northern Vermont late last summer to attend a song swap at my house in western Massachusetts—a three-hour drive. When that delicious hug ended and I came up for air, Liz Hannon strode over for her hug! Even though we’d never met, I felt like we were family. From the moment I joined CMN, Liz welcomed me, shared my music, and has been a source of support and encouragement through e-mails and phone calls month after month. I’m sure she does that with everyone (and I marvel at that).
At the Newcomers Circle, we sang a partner song written by Joanne Hammil, whom I’d previously met in my region (the Northeast), so that felt like a touchstone. But I was partnered with a new face and name: Mara Sapon-Shevin. In less than a minute we learned that we had significant “likes” and looked at each other knowing that “you’re going to be someone important in my life” feeling. Time will tell, but our music, our families, and our life work have strong overlaps, and we made a great connection. Around me I saw the joyful reunions of long-time members with their counterparts from all over the country and I knew that was going to be in my future. Instead of the conference being the great big GULP step into the unknown and being the new kid, I would soon have solid friends.
Line dancing! Circle dancing! Square dancing! What a treat!
Where am I? My own personal heaven? Dancing and a bonfire in the same night? For a split second I wondered whom I might dance with (that old annoying dilemma of anyone who didn’t come with someone else), but with line dancing, there is no problem, and we all sashayed all over the room. Anyone in the mood was instantly included, and as we wove around and around passing a sea of beaming faces, both hands stretched wide, hearts and lungs expanded, blood pulsing to the beat, we fairly lifted off the ground! Joy incarnate! We are here, we are together, we are glad!
The line dancing came to an end, but in a few seconds I had a partner that was not only a friendly face, but one of my heroines in the field of women’s and children’s music, Nancy Schimmel! Woo-hoo! I had met her at my first national gathering the year before, but I had been too shy to do anything but blink in awe. Nancy Schimmel, author of “1492,” a song I used every single year of my teaching career. I think a couple generations of Leverett, Massachusetts kids could sing the list of tribes: “The Inuit and Cherokee / the Aztec and Menominee / the Onondaga and the Cree; / Columbus sailed across the sea, but someone was already here!” Well, much as I love to sing, I am often tongue-tied. Now I didn’t even have to make conversation, and we were joining hands, tuned to each other’s steps, and forever good friends by the end of the dancing! Do-si-dos and backside-bumps, swing your partners, promenade! What a blast.
When I made it to my room I was quite tired, but the camper in me (who hadn’t been camping in quite a while) just couldn’t turn in because at that very moment the bonfire was being lit out on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan. My roommate, Sarah Pirtle, had also intended on going to bed, but then couldn’t resist the temptation either. Together we bundled up in our multi-layers (temperatures were dropping that weekend) and made our way out under the stars and to the fireside to join in the singing: “Under the boardwalk, out of the sun / Under the boardwalk, we’ll be havin’ some fun…” We returned to our room, hugging and laughing that we had made such a grand choice to go out there.
- My first workshop with Andrea was “Musicals with a Purpose.” What a happy surprise to see young Luke Seston at the keyboard beside Andrea, jamming with her, showing his musical gifts, and beaming. He was so joyful that he just radiated over all of us, and we basked in the glow as we sang tearfully and joyfully, “I’m a person just like you!” I know we were all completely filled and inspired and would not have needed one more thing, but Andrea had more in store: a nationally acclaimed documentary made about her work of thirty years, building connections and affirming kids of all stripes. We thought our hearts could not open more, but stretch they did as we saw lives genuinely changed by her work.
- Some of the meals were working meals for me, which caught me by surprise, but I certainly realized the wisdom of seizing the opportunity to brainstorm with those from one’s own region. I felt like a beginner on a fast-track graduate course, but hey, I signed up! And when the CMN board members explained the many goals and benefits they have worked so hard to implement, I felt privileged to be part of the community. Again. I love the CMN Code of Ethics, which I had no idea existed, but which I have experienced through all of my interactions with members. May I do my part to continue in a common spirit. My feeling of appreciation and being blessed just grew all weekend.
- Early Sunday morning I wanted to have more time to visit with my roommate, but our sleep patterns were just enough different that I was up and heading out the door to try the qigong class when she woke up. I was torn in my decision (the fate of a Pisces), but since I had missed yoga the day before, I pressed on to qigong. As soon as I stepped into the gentle moves, guided by Jane Arsham’s soothing voice, with the gentle sunrise coming into the room, I was glad I had made that decision. Lo and behold, Sarah joined the session ten minutes into it. Starting another full day with a slow pace and relaxing instrumental music was a gift to both of us.
- My final workshop was with the lovely and lively Alina Celeste (who had been my tech mentor—thank you!) and Jessica “Culture Queen” Smith (boldly called “Queen” for short). Bold was the lesson they were teaching. Stand out, strut your stuff, choose your colors, choose your theme, your slogan, a signature shtick! Be yourself—but in a magnified way. That’s a line I could take and use—and I have! In fact, two days later I had a brand new outfit that I felt good in, just in time for my next Curious Giraffe Show. And people noticed. It may change over time, but now I am thinking about my appearance like never before. And I have created a slogan and a logo with my three chosen colors. I’m so glad Alina and Queen shared what they have learned! They have clearly become great friends and they are each unique! Maybe someday I’ll be hip like them, and maybe not, but I will be me. By the way, a key component of my striking new showtime outfit was a tunic that I purchased at the Glad Rags rack!
- Finally, the Magic Penny Award. It was a tight fit, but we managed to squeeze into the downstairs room that provided better lighting for the wonderful Pete Seeger video! At the conference, so much work was done behind the scenes, and the Magic Penny Award was the crowning touch. To have eaten breakfast with Tinya Seeger, and then have her expound on her family and what it was like to have Pete Seeger as her dad, was a treasure. The award itself, with the Clearwater wood carving, was so special, and singing and laughing together (just like he always wanted) was such a celebration. I was surprised to be invited to lead “Sailin’ Up, Sailin’ Down,” and truly could not have done it without David Heitler-Klevans, Nancy Hershatter, Queen, Amy Conley, and Tina Stone. But that is exactly what happens. The invitation is given, you say yes, and help rallies around you. It was a blast to lead the song and feel part of a grand celebration. When we sang “We Shall Overcome,” my past, present, and future—and Pete’s, and yours, and my parents’, siblings’, wife’s, children’s, and grandchildren’s—all whooshed through me in a giant wave of love and courage and hope. We Shall Overcome. By. Singing.
Thank you, Pete. Thank you, CMN.