Why Study Music And Poetry?

Opportunity — what a unique thing. Moving Wildwood out of NYC has given me an immense one: the opportunity to rapidly evolve a project, unhindered by its old expectations. Here I am in Santa Barbara, my loathed, winter coat discarded beneath an overflowing shelf of beach towels, updating Wildwood’s site, and fleshing out workshops I’ve dreamt of evolving into seasonal classes.

One of the most important opportunities we have is our first impression. For Wildwood, that means its name and logo. In the literal sense, a wildwood is a forest untouched by humans, left to grow without interference. So, you might say it’s an unconventional choice for a school, especially one that offers so many lessons, classes, and workshops. But even among the cockroaches and concrete of NYC, I never considered another name. Wildwood Home for the Arts speaks to all aspects of the school’s approach and philosophy, both toward life and education, and answers the question, “Why study music and poetry?”

The story of Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique has always stuck with me. Here was an outsider in the world of music, rejecting Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” for “I feel, therefore I am,” in both his perspective on life and subsequent compositional style. Even in the public eye, he was willing to trust what was most innate to him, to use his formal training to mold that into a beautiful, jarring, wild symphony that no one else could make. This working together of learned skills with self-awareness and self-trust — ownership of creativity — resulted in an expression so honest and unapologetic it became a famous anomaly and pioneer in musical history.

That’s amazing to me. It’s a story about “can” and “can’t”, of possibility, a story about the power of perspective, perception, and value as important and poignant then as it is today. The notes and rhythms that make up his symphony were accessible to every composer, yet he was the one able to illuminate its existence, to pluck its disparate parts from the air and form it in music. It shows the deep value of leaving room for possibility, for opportunity, the value of keeping a tether to that creativity in ourselves that is primary.

Childhood may be our greatest opportunity. Louise Glück says, “We look at the world once, in childhood. / The rest is memory.” Childhood is our first impression of the world and of ourselves, and is widely regarded as the time in our lives we'll be the most creative, that we are free from “cans” and “can’ts”, when the most is possible. Wordsworth says, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: / The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star … At length the Man perceives it die away, / And fade into the light of common day.”

Where does it go, for so many, this creativity, this belief in possibility? I’ll tell you a not-so-secret secret: nowhere. It never leaves. Human creative capacity is akin to a paradox of time: from the perspective of duality, irredeemable; from the perspective of transcendence, impossible to ever be lost — omnipresent and indissoluble. This is what it looks like when the doors and windows and walls of dichotomy break apart and sprawl out into pure possibility, pure opportunity — like a wildwood.

The tree symbolizes strength, growth, and wisdom. The woods as a landscape are a far more multidimensional symbol: trope of life's journeys, of going "into the woods"; of returning changed, more capable, wiser; of the unconscious; of the unknown mysteries, magic, and dangers inherent in life; of creation and sustenance. Creativity is a thing on a larger scale than humans, experienced by us yet without interference. Especially in the case of a wildwood, our omnipresent creativity can be found in the prism of its symbolism.

And from this symbolic landscape arrives Wildwood’s logo — the lantern — lit up like that Sargent painting of girls at dusk in a tendriled garden, sistered to the flowers in their ruffled dresses. Wildwood's first impression, and philosophy, are distilled into that lantern light. From art, to fairytale, to ritual, to object design both historic and modern, the lit lantern represents home, guidance, hospitality, hope, sight. With that warm, golden orb by our side, we can see in the dark. We can see into the woods and out of the woods.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

It is the perfect name for me: a school, a place of being taught, yet with its immediate identity a metaphor for character-building and the playground of fundamental, intrinsic creativity. Rather than erect a tower to look down from, it suggests respect, wisdom, and humility; things no school should exist without, and those that support and sustain the most fruitful educational environment.

Why study music and poetry? To maintain perspective — tether to our own possibility, the world’s — in which happiness is nestled. To be able to see the forest for the trees. An opportunity that never leaves us, only that we would recognize it.

Wildwood Home for the Arts is just that — a home. One focused on education, that carries the torch of perception, helping its students maintain the connection to their capacity to illuminate life's paths. To opportunity, to possibility, to perspective. It is their light, to lead themselves home.

— Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein