Column – Student voices unite, bring hope amid much division 

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

It sometimes seems the ideological divide that is turning education topsy-turvy in much of the country, including right here at home, will be the undoing of our greatest experiment, and one of our greatest achievements — public education for all.

But then, just as you become discouraged, you find reason for hope.

I found it two weeks ago, as I often have during a long life, in music. We had the pleasure — make that, the honor — of attending the Isle of Wight County Schools Pyramid Concert, which celebrated Music in Our Schools Month, a national recognition of the importance music plays in education and our lives.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

We listened as students from third graders to seniors lifted their voices in a celebration of life that can only be fully felt through music. Students from Carrollton Elementary, Hardy Elementary, Smithfield Middle School and Smithfield High School took their turns on the Smithfield High auditorium stage to share such classics as “Better When I’m Dancing” from the movie “Peanuts” and “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” a gospel tune that had the audience keeping time with their hands.

As you would expect, the music became more sophisticated and the harmony more precise as the concert moved from the youngest to oldest student choruses. What didn’t change, and certainly never diminished, was the enthusiasm with which these young singers sang their parts. And equally evident was the respect that students showed one another. Older chorus members cheered elementary singers just as loudly as they were cheered in turn.

The highlight of this remarkable event, however, is a portion of it that I hope was recorded (and might even be played at a future School Board meeting). 

As a finale, all six participating choruses crowded onto the stage and the floor below. There, under the direction of SHS music director Katie West and accompanied by SMS director Paul Putnam, the combined choral talent of our county public school student body — nearly 250 of them altogether — sang with passion and joy “Why We Sing,” a joyous celebration written by songwriter Greg Gilpin.

Elements of that song should become a guiding light as parents and teachers continue to forge ahead with the vital business of educating our county’s young people. A few lines will explain why:


A sound of hope, a sound of peace

A sound that celebrates and speaks what we believe.

Music builds a bridge, it can tear down a wall. 

Music is a language that can speak to one and all.


This is why we sing, why we lift our voice, 

Why we stand as one in harmony.

Take my hand and sing with me.

Amen, students. It’s time all of us did just that.


A new beginning


And, speaking of the power of music, work is progressing on the new downtown stage, being built on the lot in front of The Smithfield Times.

I admit to a bit of nostalgia for the old gazebo that we built with volunteer labor nearly three decades ago, but it was in declining health and those who plan public events for the town felt a larger facility was needed. That’s fine, for it means that larger events can be held on the property that Anne and I years ago began opening to public use.

It was Brad Face, I believe, who jokingly began calling the lot “Times Square” back when we first began hosting concerts there, staged back then on a small flatbed trailer. The name stuck and has been its informal, sometimes tongue-in-cheek name ever since.

The town now plans to call it Main Street Square or something like that, I understand, and that’s fine as well. It’s nice and neutral and doesn’t unduly give credit in any direction, which is probably good. As long as the free music continues and there’s a place to enjoy it, all is well.

The Isle of Wight Arts League has committed to see that happen, and Elaine Dairo, an indefatigable volunteer, now schedules and oversees concerts on the site. She has a terrific schedule lined up for this year and all of us who enjoy music under the stars look forward to watching performers on a brand spanking new stage.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is