Posts Tagged ‘Islesford’

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A Visit to Ashley’s

October 23, 2018

Last week of summer vacation

During the last two days I have posted two stories about Ashley Bryan. The first on the collaboration of Ovations Offstage, Portland Museum of Art and Theater Ensemble of Color to bring to life Beautiful Blackbird. Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the last performance of Beautiful Blackbird at Hannaford Hall on the USM campus. Yesterday’s blog post was about the requiem that Aaron Robinson wrote to celebrate Ashley’s life. It is an amazing story and a wonderful tribute to an amazing man.

Traveling to Islesford 

I was fortunate to travel to Ashley’s home on Islesford in late August. I was lead there by my former student Aaron Robinson. Yes, the same one who wrote the requiem. We were communicating after I read the article in the Maine Sunday Telegram about Aaron’s and Ashley’s collaboration. I had so many questions and Aaron finally said: “Why don’t you go to the island and visit Ashley? If you don’t you will regret it.” So, once I figured out how to make that happen I asked music teacher Kate Smith if she wanted to go along for the boat ride and visit to the island. She was as excited as me (perhaps more)!

We left in the early morning on the drive to Southwest Harbor, hopped on the ferry and arrived in the late morning on the island. Someone kindly gave us directions to Ashley’s: “Go up the hill, make a right, walk to the intersection of the two roads by the grey home with the white fence and turn left. At the next intersection turn right, go down aways and look for a sign low to the ground that says: The Storyteller Pavilion.”  We were greeted at the door by Ashley’s niece, Bari. She suggested that we look around while Ashley finished his lunch. Mouths open, eyes wide we took in the beautiful art, amazing toys, brilliant colors everywhere and the collections of many years. Ashley is 95 and over the years he has collected amazing artifacts from his travels and of course, he has created a fair amount of art as well – which is everywhere.

Ashley’s home

We were in awe in his studio where he carefully creates his stained glass with the use of papier mache and sea glass. His life like marionettes made from treasures collected along the rocky shore were hanging in groups as if visiting one another. We spent some time in the pavilion where we could see his completed stained glass, his early paintings done at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, and several puppets.

We returned to visit with Ashley and shared a cup of tea, banana and molasses bread. We asked questions and listened intently. His perspective so unique and interesting. It was such a pleasure to hear what he had to say. His wit sharp, clarity of words/messages, and smile lit up the room.

We asked how to respectfully teach music and art from other cultures when we are such foreigners to them. He emphatically said: “don’t not teach it for that reason”. He and Bari told a story about a visiting chorus in another country. At the end a woman approached them with tears in her eyes and thanked them for singing in their language and said that no one had visited and sang in the native language.

Kate Smith brings it home
When asked  if he had a special message we could take back to the teachers and students of Maine, Ashley said something along these lines:
“Embrace each day with joy, wonder, discovery and rediscovery.”
I happened to be rereading the book “Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE and other Special Areas” at the time. As I pondered Ashley’s message and the beautiful conversations we had, I wondered how I could bring it back to my school and students in a way that would be impactful for all of us. It lead to a “rediscovery” of our school mission statement which ends with “together we learn”. I pondered, “What does ‘together we learn’ mean?” I began to see it as an anthem, a battle cry of sorts. I put the mission statement to music, making sure to give it a sense of joy. Instead of ending with “together we learn” we begin with it. At each Friday assembly I read a list of skills, knowledge or routines students have learned that week and as each one is called out the students sing “Together We learn” on sol-mi syllables. I have called out anything from ” colors” to “place value” to “cafeteria rules”. It is a fun way to celebrate what others are learning. The kids LOVE it. We then roll right into a roll call in which they stand as grade levels to sing our mission statement: “Challenge, success and love of learning for everyone, every day.” This transformation has added a richness to our purpose as students and teachers and drawn us together as a community of learners.

Both Kate and I were so grateful to have journeyed to the island to meet Ashley. It was a magical amazing day that will be forever in our memories!

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