by Virginia Palmer-Fuechsel
Late fall is my favorite time of the year at The New School. Why? As Thanksgiving nears, students and faculty begin gearing up for the annual Talent Show. It starts with a few announcements, and little by little unexpected talents emerge and converge. Classical strings, modern dance, comedy, original compositions, martial arts demonstrations, poetry readings, Korean karaoke, piano pieces, rock bands, theater skits, African drumming, show wrestling, unicycling, juggling… the list goes on. I’m always surprised by the variety of performing arts that come together for the show. But the best shows are those that benefit others.
My first days as a teacher here were overshadowed by the shock, tragedy, and loss of 9/11/2001. The school became a safe haven for cultural exchange, inquisitive discourse, emotional release, and artistic response. The idea of pulling together a concert to benefit survivors simply provided an impetus for action. After months of rehearsals, fundraising, and preparations, the entire school community crowded into a nearly rental hall for an unforgettable evening of heartfelt performances.
As a musician I have been privileged to work under and with many master artists who believe deeply in giving back and paying forward. A benefit performance fosters individual talent and ensembles. It provides space for faculty, students, and parents to collaborate. Beginners can try out short pieces for proud families. Shy students find courage in larger groups. Stars can shine. Older performers get to share favorites, polish up audition pieces, or risk something new for an audience that is welcoming and appreciative. And everyone is happy when we are able to raise money and goods for the chosen cause.
My first History of Rock and Roll class decided to learn about the business end of live music by putting on a rock concert/dance in our new gymnasisum. Our first all-school rock concert showcased an emerging professional band as well as school groups and ensembles. Inspired by this event, Michael Denny, then just a Freshman, decided that he could do it better. He dreamed of transforming our new theater into an intimate through-designed rock club experience. Michael asked me and Billy if we would coach and sponsor him. Of course! The first Yeti Fest was a enthusiastically raucous, rocky experience. Yeti Fests Two and Three demonstrated how Michael and his team were learning and growing not just as musicians, but as entrepreneurs. They put out Facebook pages, designed the stage, produced art work for the space, wrote and published ads, worked out the light and sound, composed and recorded music, made promo videos, ironed logos on yellow t-shirts, rehearsed in and after school, recruited outside bands, sold tickets, schlepped in the gear and spent hours setting up the space, and then worked together late into the night to clean up everything. Whew! The Yetis were not only loads of fun, they raised funds for new amps, drums, and other band equipment. Half of the proceeds went to the Red Cross for Haitian, and the following year, Japan disaster relief. Michael and Co have since graduated and gone on to their respective music studios and colleges, but memories of the Yetis remain to inspire new students.
Over the years, New Schoolers have pooled their talents to benefit a wide variety of causes, including tsunami, hurricane and earthquake disaster relief, local food pantries, the Peru Club, and even books for a South African elementary school. They have hosted benefit events in outside galleries, rental halls, our courtyard, the old common room, and in the new art room, gym, and theater spaces. I am really looking forward to this year’s Winter Benefit Concert! We are hoping to again collect a vanful of goods for local food pantries, as well as raise as much money as possible for those suffering in the wake of the typhoon that recently battered the Philippines. And I am sure that this year’s crew of artistically involved students, faculty, and parents will produce yet another heartwarming event for the entire school community.