Head of School’s Notebook: Chicago

April 28, 2023

I have been speaking a good deal this week with the members of the cast of our musical, Chicago. Of several I asked, how does it feel to be done?

“Strange,” said many. “I don’t know what to do with all the time that used to be taken up with rehearsals.” “Sad,” said another. “I miss it.”

“Did you know that we rehearsed for 15 hours the week before the show went up?” one sophomore asked me. He was sort of amazed himself. He said he liked getting the time back, but he was still nostalgic about the show. “I was part of something special,” he said.

One of the things we wrestle with perpetually at Cate is time. We never have enough and there are so many competing interests. If Family Weekend revealed anything clearly, surely it is the volume of endeavor underway on this campus. There is a tendency in the midst of such demands to spread everyone and everything thin, to do a little of a lot and trust that someday, when there is more time, we’ll go deeper. The challenge, to borrow from John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, is that “someday never comes.”

So we choose our moments to dig deep, to commit our greatest resources – time and people – to one pursuit. Chicago is an example of that very choice. And it was marvelous. For three nights, audiences were captivated and energized, and inspired by a carefully prepared, brilliantly staged, and exquisitely performed show. It is easy to know what that experience or the host of other performances over the weekend meant to those of us fortunate to watch and to listen. We loved them all.

But we don’t do anything around here just for the audience. To stage a show or hold a concert or even display artwork in the Bruno Gallery is to invest in the work that gets our students there and the learning that is derived from such labors. Did we wonder, as we listened to our strings ensemble play those Vivaldi pieces about the time and discipline required to build such synchronous sound? Or wonder when Naomi Chen ’26 picked up her flute how many years of study brought her to that level of performance? Five, she told me recently.

The question that underlies every education program in the world, ours included, is what do our students need? It is a question we never fully answer, because needs change with the world.  We are never disappointed, though, when we go against the grain a bit and dive deep into a series of creative endeavors. Family Weekend revealed the byproducts of that commitment, from the writing contest to the various concerts and shows, even to the stage.

In Chicago, students and faculty used their power to create and to render a particular art form. In other venues around campus, the construction was scholarly or literary. In each, though, beyond any performance, the result was the same: a glimpse at what is possible when we can focus our full selves at least for a time on a single worthy endeavor.

Sometimes there is nothing more informative than “all that jazz!”