BY JAKE BRYANT
Editor’s Note: Over the summer, Jake Bryant attended the Governor’s School of North Carolina (a publicly funded residential program for intellectually and artistically gifted high school students) for Choral Music.
“Celestial” is one of the few words that can accurately describe the delicious harmony present when the Governor’s School East Chorus of 2018 sang the first few notes of “Cells, Planets,” during our closing assembly. We, the choir, were firmly planted on the stage, rooted in our desire to step out of ourselves and deliver this one last performance—his one, final, fleeting gift. The notes we sang were cast into the thick, swampy, air; soaked in regret and heartache, they drifted out to the crowd slowly, as if they were trudging through molasses. Our chests were heavy and sore, and the tears we shed that day could have filled pondsupon rivers upon oceans. During those five minutes and forty-something seconds, we were an amalgam of love and warmth. For a moment, the stage lights turned into stars, the audience into planets, and it felt as if we were exploring the Milky Way. For a second or two, we were perfectly positioned between present and future, and those five minutes and forty-something seconds were millennia and fractions of milliseconds at the same time.
I’m not very superstitious, but it was truly an out-of-body experience. I have never felt so warmed by music as I did in that moment. If it was not already clear how free we felt to express our emotions and empty our hearts, our uncontrollable sobbing surely proved that; everyone, quite literally, everyone, opened their hearts without any fear, judgement, or weakness. We were all connected, and in my opinion, music was the vehicle that brought us to that destination. “Cells, Planets,” the GSE 2018 Chorus’ flagship song, was the gut-wrenching, heart-shattering “song of the summer” at Meredith College. The lyrics discuss how cells, planets, and every other part of our universe are connected in that they are (at the most basic level) made of the same things, and that human compassion is ultimately what really defines the world. This prose—combined with the lustrous, effervescent music—made for a song that was performed at the exact right time, by the exact right mix of singers and for the exact right audience, and was able to profoundly impact every single student.
This phenomenon of connectedness—of being unafraid to trust and open up to those we knew quite well, and those we didn’t know at all—was not only present during choral music performances. Every single artistic discipline managed to arouse passion and empathy within anyone who viewed or interacted with them. Never have I been more inspired by artists than I was by the musicians, dancers, actors, and artists of Governor’s School. Each and every student fully committed to their craft, day in and day out. The achievements of my peers are certainly nothing to scoff at, either. The GSE instrumental music students composed music about the intricacies of time and space that was performed at the end of the first week; the theatre students wrote, blocked, and published a play within four weeks. Of course, the students of academic disciplines were just as fearsome, wielding their pens, paper, and calculators to stir change in even the most stubborn of individuals. They were peerless in their determination to begin dialogues crucial to progress. While I did have a uniquely deep connection to the arts disciplines, I was still touched by the academia of GSE on every single day of the term.
The opportunity to attend Governor’s School was something I deeply, deeply wish was available to every student in North Carolina. The emotional and artistic attachments and freedom we discovered are unlike any that I have, and maybe ever will, experience. Never have I been in such a supportive, uplifting, hearty, compassionate environment. The experience was once-in-a-lifetime, like a blue moon, or catching a hummingbird in flight: rare, precious, and the most absolute form of beauty. My time at GSE was like a shooting star—fleeting, yes, but encapsulating and wondrous for the few moments I was able to experience it. During those magical seconds, where my fellow choir members and I joined hands and parted in the form of that final performance, we abandoned our problems in bittersweet bliss. Our hearts had swelled to planetary sizes, and, for a minute, we were threaded together, like the thread that connects cells, planets, and everything in between.