Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

Imagine this: hundreds of people singing together in a round, at 10:30 a.m., on a Monday. That’s what we experienced this week at our all-school assembly, as the Gryphtones a cappella group led students, faculty, and staff through the traditional canon, “Dona nobis pacem,” with special guest conductor Po-wei Weng. When we walked into assembly that morning, only a select few were aware that this magical moment of music was coming, which made it all-the-most special. The impromptu feeling of it, and the sense of coming together so seamlessly in an unexpected moment of serenity.

Head of School Dolph Cheek, who led the school from 1951 to 1968, shared in the belief of previous Head of School John French, that that everyone should gain basic musical literacy. During his time, chorus classes were held two mornings a week, sometimes with as many as 150 students in each class. One of the songs frequently sung by both the chorus, and sometimes, the entire community at assemblies, was “Dona nobis pacem,” which is what inspired us to sing it on Monday.  

The original plan was to sing the song in unison, but I of course insisted that we take it a step further and attempt the piece in a round, dividing the audience into three distinct sections. Because you can’t sing “Dona nobis pacem” and not sing it in a round! And we did it — quite successfully (if I do say so myself). Despite it being a cold, Monday morning, during a busy last week of classes, there was no grumbling, no resistance, no attempts to thwart the effort; just a whole lot of community good-will and fun; we all just sang — together.

Flash forward to last night’s Evening of the Arts Rock/Pop concert, and again we see the power of music to unite, inspire, and enchant. As usual, I felt an enormous sense of pride at seeing our students on stage; their talent, passion, and spirit was undeniably moving. And I also felt transported to a place of tranquility, peace, and calm — as I always do in the presence of music. I was present, in the moment, soaking in the delight emanating through the theatre—and seeing students in charge, and in their element.

The feeling brings to mind a quote from composer Leonard Bernstein, who said,“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

In times seemingly fraught with conflict and discord, we can always rely on music — and the arts as a whole — to remind us what’s most important. I wish you all a safe, restful, and family-filled break.

The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.