On Wednesday April 25 members of the community experienced a unique musical production with the performance of Falling for Pawling. Held in the Pawling High School Auditorium, the event comprised a musical collaboration between the Pawling School District and the Sherman Chamber Ensemble. Falling for Pawling featured several musical numbers honoring the local community, area history, and the natural beauty of the Harlem Valley. The evening concluded with a special showcase in classrooms at the high school entitled The Future of the Harlem Valley, which featured a self-guided tour of student work presented in partnership with The Oblong Land Conservancy.
The vision for Falling for Pawling began after Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Kim Fontana attended a performance of “Song to Symphony” presented by the Sherman Chamber Ensemble within the Sherman School System. Fontana was inspired by the performance and soon proposed the project to the district’s history, music, and literature teachers. Ultimately, the idea was to create a large-scale musical work for orchestra and voice called an oratorio.
Falling for Pawling was an original musical composition by Eliot Bailen, Artistic Director of the Sherman Chamber Ensemble. Bailen composed the oratorio drawing inspiration from PHS Government and English research projects. In preparation, he also worked closely with district music instructors Brian Zamek, Hannah Geiling, Joshua Barrow, and Alicia Nace; he also received directorial assistance from Stacy Dumont. “Working with the teachers here was an amazing thing,” said Bailen. “They are wonderful. And working with Kim Fontana was wonderful.”
The evening featured six musical numbers, each with its own distinct sound and subject matter performed by the PHS band and chorus, Pawling Middle School Seventh and Eighth Grade Chorus, as well as selected instrumentalists from Pawling Middle School and the Sherman Chamber Ensemble.
The performance began with Falling for Pawling, a rousing ode to the town with lyrics by Eliot Bailen. Each piece that followed would draw directly upon student work from PHS alumni. Stewart Airbase March was inspired by work completed by Katherine Mamouzellos, Lingering Spirits was inspired by research of local haunted locations by Claudia Belmonte and Lauren Reynolds, and A View of Two Lakes and Home in the Woods featured lyrics from poetry by Elisabeth Clemmons. The final number, A Part of History, told the story of George Washington’s tenure in Pawling, drawing upon research by Kirmon Hansen and adding the hip-hop flair of a performance of Hamilton.
“I am just awed at what the teachers and the students were able to do,” said Kim Fontana. “They worked with very challenging music, and they really gave it their all. We were so fortunate to have Eliot Bailen. He’s a tremendous professional. I really can’t say enough about how proud we are.” Bailen also praised the efforts of all the student musicians, noting that everyone involved did not falter, even when faced with difficult compositions: “The kids really rose to the occasion, and then some. They didn’t miss anything; they were right on the beats. They were totally there.”
After the conclusion of Falling for Pawling, guests were invited to take a self-guided tour of student work entitled The Future of the Harlem Valley. Among the exhibits featured were trash to treasure sculptures, drawings and painting of the great swamp, and a presentation on conservation strategies in the Harlem Valley by Oblong Land Conservancy member Phillip Van Buren. The evening concluded with the screening of student short films under the direction of literature and videography teacher Brian Ostyn and inspired by the Harlem Valley open space reserves; several students were awarded prizes for film and animation by a panel of judges.
Falling for Pawling provided an entertaining and often enlightening look at the town and its historic surroundings. By drawing inspiration from student works and presentations, each part of the evening served to highlight a different aspect of Pawling. As the lyrics to the titular musical number say: “This familiar town, it still amazes. The special places, the special faces – take it all in. Let the show begin.”