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Everything I Know About Life, I Learned From My Conductor


Leonard has been ushered through a corridor with the others, and now waits in a very dark room, with black curtains near him.  He shuffles behind a curtain, stands very still for a moment and then pops his head out at Chloe, gleefully. 

“Chloe, boo!”

“Shhhh,” responds Chloe, disapprovingly.  “Susan said wait QUIETLY.”

Sure enough, Susan says it again.  She also reminds them to follow her when she walks on.  Chloe lets Leonard hold her hand.  He towers above her.


Suddenly they hear applause.  “That’s us!” says Susan.  “Let’s go!” and she walks, checking behind her.  Leonard and Chloe and a dozen other kids follow obediently, each in his or her own manner.  Dominic jumps, because he always jumps.


The stage is brightly lit, and lots of people with instruments are sitting there.  The conductor greets them and claps along with everyone else.  Chloe remembers he is called Maestro; they met him in the Greenroom.  It wasn’t green, though.  She suddenly feels shy.  She can’t see her mum because the stage lights make it black where she should be.


Suddenly, the music begins and it’s everywhere.  It’s the same music they love from the CD player at the Centre but louder, and richer, and all around them.  They turn to the orchestra to watch.  They can tell what sounds are coming from where.  “Trumpets”, breathes Leonard.  “Aaaaawesome.”


From a wheelchair in the midst of the small crowd of dazed children, a clear voice calls to Maestro.  But Maestro is conducting.  Maddy tries again.  It’s important, she tells Susan.  Maestro steps off the podium, still conducting, and moves towards her.  The concertmaster raises his head to the back of the orchestra and gives them a nod.  Now when Maestro kneels to hear tiny Maddy, the orchestra continues without him. 


If you happened to be a violist that day, you might have been near enough to hear the small voice make her request to the conductor, as the symphony soared around them.

“Please can we dance?” she asked simply.  And he responded gravely:

“You must definitely dance.”

Leonard is fifteen years old.  He survived a car accident ten years ago but has made little intellectual development since.  Chloe is seventeen.  She has Down Syndrome.  Dominic, twelve, has fetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD.


Maddy is fourteen.  She has spina bifida and learning difficulties.  She has never walked but she dances her arms like a sprite. 


As Maestro extricates himself, the group has already seized upon the opportunity to dance with expansive unselfconsciousness.  They whirl and flail and leap.  Some of them sing for good measure.  All of them are purely, joyously, blissfully happy. 


They are the wise ones. 


And we, fortunate to witness them, have much to learn.

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