Remembering Ken Donnelly

By Jim Shaw

Ken Donnelly

Few people in life have that special something, Ken Donnelly was such a person. He knew early on that his calling was to serve.  Whether it was as a fire fighter, a union leader, or as a state senator, Ken Donnelly epitomized the meaning public service.  Senator Donnelly, or simply Ken as he preferred to be called, recently lost his battle with brain cancer. And, although he may be gone, his legacy will carry on through the lives he touched along the way.

I first met Ken soon after I took my first job after college.  I was hired by the Massachusetts AFL/CIO to serve as the program director for young union members.  The program was intended to motivate young union members to be more involved in the political process.  One of the first people I was introduced to was a young legislative agent from the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), his name was Ken Donnelly.  The fact that he was a Lexington fire fighter was completely coincidental. Ken took me around and introduced me to several young union activists who became the core of our program.  Most of them went on to do great things.  Ironworker Steve Lynch is now a Congressman, Red Cap Steve Tolman is a former senator and current president of the Mass AFL/CIO, assembly worker George Noel became Commissioner of Labor in Massachusetts, and Ken Donnelly went on to become the second highest ranking fire fighter and a powerful member of the State Senate.

My relationship with Ken continued for a longtime.  We became friends.  Good friends.  That was easy with Ken.  He made everyone feel as though they were a good friend.  That was his gift.

Ken spent nearly four decades as a full-time Lexington Fire Fighter.  He soon became president of the local union, then turned his attention to the state fire fighter organization.  In the early 1980s, he was elected Legislative Agent for the PFFM.  He became close to Bob McCarthy who served at the time as president of the Watertown local. Then tragedy struck the PFFM when longtime president Dusty Alward was killed in an automobile accident.  McCarthy and Donnelly took the helm of the PFFM and worked together until Ken’s election to the State Senate in 2008.

Ken was a teacher by nature.  He liked to identify talented young people and help bring them along.  Current Lexington Fire Lieutenant Mark Ferreira was one of his proteges.  Mark explained that Ken was a special kind of leader.  Almost as if he led from behind, because he was always pushing you along trying to bring the best out.  Mark said, “I first met Ken when I joined the fire department 31 years ago. I was a young kid of 21 years and he took me under his wing. He was 21 when he joined the Department too. He eventually became my lieutenant and I was on the truck with him on a regular basis. He taught me how to be a good firefighter and introduced me to the importance of being involved in the union. Serving the public was important to him, so was his desire to serve his fellow firefighters.”

Ferreira explains that Ken spent the greater part of his career at the East Lexington fire house. He said, “He was the union president for the Lexington local and eventually became the legislative agent for the state fire fighters union or the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. After several years of serving as legislative agent, he was elected statewide secretary-treasurer of the PFFM. Ken was the best! He always took good care of his crew. He was always fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor, but he took his responsibilities as a fire fighter very seriously. One of the things I remember most fondly is that his crew always ate very well. Ken was a great cook. He would cook every Sunday at the East Lexington station. I remember one time we were working a shift on New Year’s Eve and when the other station called to say they ordered Chinese food, Ken wanted better.  He decided we weren’t going to eat “that junk” and he cooked beautiful homemade Chinese food for everyone at the East Lexington station. It was the most delicious Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.”

Mark talks about Ken’s dedication to fire fighters who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Mark said, “Ken felt that fallen fire fighters had waited too long to be recognized in way befitting to their sacrifice, so he helped to move forward the Massachusetts Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial.”   Ferreira continued, “He served on the original board of directors. He was very active in securing the site, raising the needed funds, and the effort to construct the memorial. He was particularly involved with the design of the memorial. He served as chairman of the board for a while right up until the time he passed away. We will be adding his name to the memorial at a ceremony this fall”

In a final thought, Mark shared what might be Ken’s greatest legacy.  He said, “What made Ken great and where he succeeded, was that he could always find common ground with both sides. His gift was his ability to educate. Whether it was negotiating in Lexington or as a member of the Senate, he was effective because he was fair and he educated those he dealt with. He was a special kind of a person who left an indelible impression, not only here in Lexington but in the town of Arlington where he lived and in the Senate where in nine short years he became a top member of the leadership.”

Ken had the ability to affect change and motivate people.  A longtime friend of Ken’s is United States Senator Ed Markey.  I talked with Senator Markey about Ken and as you might guess, he said Ken was one of his “go to guys for advice and counsel.”  Senator Markey said, “Ken Donnelly was Massachusetts. He was a guy who worked his way up, worked his way through UMass, was a fire fighter for thirty-seven years. He was a happy warrior. I always thought of him as a sort of Hubert Humphrey, fighting as hard as he could for the causes which he cared about, while at the same time enjoying the battle. He communicated that to everyone with a wink and a smile.”

Recalling a night of just unwinding with his friend Ken, Senator Markey talked about spending time at Fenway Park. He said, “I miss him. I took him in 2013 to the deciding game of the ALCS championship at Fenway Park. You might remember that was the game where Shane Victorino hit a grand slam to win the series. We sat in the third row next to Mike Pence and his wife. For Kenny it was a beautiful moment. He got the Red Sox, the Governor of Indiana, and the new U.S. Senator. We talked politics and baseball for 4 hours culminating in Victorino’s grand slam to win the game 5-2. We left and went back to his car and he drove me back home to Malden. That’s a great memory for me. I remember him as a good friend, and just an all around decent guy. He was a down-to-earth guy who loved politics and loved everything about life itself. He never forgot where he came from.”

Ken walked with kings and commoners alike.  Everyone was equal in his eyes.  After a long day of fighting fires, negotiating with governmental leaders, writing pension policy, or sitting through long legislative hearings, Ken was at his best when he was home on the grill or in the kitchen.  That’s how Ken showed his love.  Good food and companionship.  Ken and I spent lots of time together during his campaigns and driving to political conventions.  He always made me feel needed by asking me for advice, even though he already had the answers.  He was a friend to me and my family.  I will always remember his kindness, guidance and generosity of spirit.

Ken was a Senator and a fire fighter, but his deepest devotion was reserved for his family. His wife Judy was at the center of his existence.  The same is true about his children Ryan, Keith and Brenna. His grand children too.  He valued his time with family.  I remember Ken telling me that being a Senator was not going to interfere with spending time with his family.  And it didn’t. He valued his time at home and visiting their place in New Hampshire.  He loved the outdoors and spending time with his kids.

The pageantry at his funeral was nothing less than spectacular.  Flagged-draped fire trucks, hundreds of fire fighters lined up in formal uniforms, hundreds of friends and family were all there to pay respect to a simple man who made a lasting impression.

 

Rest in peace my good friend.

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Lexington Open Studios 2017

 

 

 

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CARY LECTURE SERIES – MARCH 4TH

“Spotlight: A Story of Asking the Right Questions and Holding Institutions Accountable”

with Sacha Pfeiffer and Dan Rothstein
CARY HALL • SATURDAY, MARCH 4TH, 2016 AT 8:00 PM

Hear Dan Rothstein and Sacha Pfeiffer speak in Lexington!
The importance of the press and of citizens in demanding a culture of accountability in a democracy. As citizens, how can we learn to ask the right questions and engage in effective action?

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Question Everything

 

By Laurie Atwater

We’ve become an answer culture.

Do we have time for questions anymore? As busy parents, do we reward the constant why, why, why that is the hallmark of childhood? Do teachers entertain questions in time-crunched classrooms? Do our leaders encourage questioning and transparency as they represent us? Do our doctors have enough time to ask the questions that would aid a proper diagnosis?

The lowly question has lost its appeal in the information age. Answers are so easy—why ask questions?

Dan Rothstein

 

Dan Rothstein is a Lexington resident, and co-founder (with Luz Santana) and director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). RQI is a nonprofit based in Boston.

Rothstein is a big fan of questions. His professional experience has taught him that thinking in questions—like little kids—may be the key to becoming better problem solvers and decision-makers, more creative thinkers, better students and more engaged citizens. In fact, Rothstein and RQI think that formulating effective questions—strategic questions that lead us to the answers we seek—may be the foundational skill for critical-thinking and higher learning. But, it is a skill that is rarely, if ever taught in school.

A PROTOCOL CREATED THROUGH GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY
Early in his career Rothstein worked as the Director of Neighborhood Planning Director in Lawrence, Massachusetts trying to curb high dropout rates in the city. It was Rothstein’s job to work with parents from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and get them involved in their children’s education—to convince them that they could make a difference and encourage them to engage with the schools.

In these conversations they learned that many parents didn’t participate in their children’s education and didn’t engage with their kid’s teachers because they “didn’t even know what to ask.”
That was an epiphany for Rothstein and his team. “The parents named an insight that had never really been fully recognized—not knowing what to ask as a major obstacle to effective participation,” he explains.

Rothstein set out with other members of his team to explore this problem in their community-building work. They first tried a simple fix: supplying the parents with prepared questions to take with them to a school meeting. “We discovered that it only created greater dependency on us which was the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish.”

They needed to teach the parents to come up with their own questions so that they would take ownership. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the simplest way to teach what is really a very sophisticated thinking skill—learning to ask your own questions and getting better at asking questions,” he says.

They found that the skill did not come naturally to most people. Initial barriers to participation—fear of judgment, embarrassment or shyness could be overcome as a group built trust. “But we started to understand that this was a dramatic change in practice,” Rothstein explains. “People were accustomed to being asked questions not to actually being invited to work on asking their own questions.”

Working with small groups, they observed how people formed questions and that producing questions (not statements, ideas or facts) was very difficult. “We then had to create these rules for producing questions that are similar to brainstorming rules, but also very different because you are working only with questions.”

 

“QFT helps you organize your thinking around what you don’t know.”  

                                                 -Stephen Quatrano, RQI board member

 

They tested out lots of ways to lead people through the process of developing questions and determined that an essential element was a stimulus or focus for question formation. “We came to understand how important that was. We created this term Question Focus (QFocus).” The QFocus is an initial prompt that focuses the group to form more directed and relevant questions. It can be a description of the problem at hand or a statement or subject depending on the setting.

THE QFT TECHNIQUE
The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:

  • Design a question focus (QFocus)
  • Produce questions
  • Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions
  • Prioritize questions
  • Plan next steps
  • Reflect

Once a group has a QFocus, each member must pose as many questions as they can and one member records the questions without stopping for discussion. No question is judged, reworded or rejected. When the questions have been formulated, the group works on improving the questions (changing close-ended questions to open-ended and any statements to questions). They then prioritize the questions and select three key questions. They decide how they will act on each question and finally they reflect on what they have learned from the process.

It took years of trial and error to refine the process—to make it simple, usable, repeatable and reliable. The Right Question Institute calls this protocol the Question Formulation Technique (QFT).

Rothstein points out that this is not a technique that was created in a think-tank or by academics or communications experts—this is a ground-up process that began with regular people in challenging circumstances. Although they started their work with adults in low-income communities, it soon became apparent that the protocol could be effective in almost unlimited settings across age groups, disciplines and education levels.

These days QFT is used by Lexington Public Schools, Harvard graduate students, Microsoft Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, schools in rural Appalachia and many more organizations around the globe to stimulate participation, aid in self-advocacy, unlock creative potential and facilitate learning.

 


Why is the Question Formulation Technique so powerful?
As participants learn to produce their own questions, they are thinking divergently—that is, more broadly and creatively. When they focus on the kinds of questions they are asking and choose their priority questions, they are thinking convergently—narrowing down, analyzing, assessing, comparing, and synthesizing. And when they reflect on what they have learned through the process, students are engaged in metacognition—they are thinking about their thinking. -RQI


 

HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER CITIZENS? The Hawaiian Sugar Cane Plantation Experience
When sugar cane plantation workers were about to lose their livelihood in Hawaii, RQI was brought in to help the workers through the transition.

“The plantation was being sold off,” Rothstein explains. “The department of public health brought us in. They were worried about how company owned housing was going to be divided up, how the land was going to be used, how healthcare was going to be provided all of these things that the company had provided.”

Working with these farm workers, RQI gained insight about how the QFT could empower people to take ownership and participate in decisions that could affect their immediate welfare and their future. Like their work in Lawrence, they observed that the simple act of asking questions was empowering to those who felt disempowered.

“That was a major point in our development—in understanding how to help people learn to focus on decisions right in front of them as the first step in learning how to participate effectively,” Rothstein says. ”What people learned was they needed to ask questions about the decisions that were going to be made locally—about the housing and the healthcare but that they were not able the change the decision made by a corporate board in London.” RQI witnessed that this process engendered a sense of control in people who felt helpless. “This process changes the dynamic and says that it’s not just the person with more power who gets to ask the questions,” Rothstein says, “but it’s the person who needs the service or the information or the help that also is entitled to question.”

What RQI observed through this experience and other advocacy work they conducted around the country was the many ways that positive interactions by disenfranchised people with institutions or figures in power could improve their self-esteem and increase engagement. “The process of asking questions sets up the expectation for responsible decision making from that authority figure,” Rothstein says. It’s a way to hold the system accountable.

This led RQI to the insight that each of these advocacy situations had produced citizens that were more prepared and therefore more engaged with their communities through each productive interaction. Government agencies like Medicaid, Social Security, immigration, schools, courts or housing authorities can be little gymnasiums for the “small d” democratic muscle necessary for citizenship. “They need an opportunity to see how all those services and programs are affected by decisions made by elected officials who are usually invisible,” Rothstein says. “It’s a muscle that develops over time through action. If you don’t develop the muscle it atrophies.”

RQI calls this network of public institutions “outposts of democracy or a Microdemocracy” where citizens or prospective citizens are often discouraged from participating in their own government. “When they experience participation on the micro level they discover the value of participating in traditional forms of democratic action,” he adds.

RQI’s Better Questions Better Decisions (BQBD) Voter Engagement Workshop uses the Question Formulation Technique to help citizens become more involved with the democratic process. “It’s a voter engagement strategy that starts where people are and allows them to ask questions about decisions that are affecting them all the way up the democratic decision-making chain. It’s a different way to approach voter education,” Rothstein says. RQI thinks their strategy can make democracy work better.

HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER STUDENTS? The Classroom Experience
It’s actually fascinating that Rothstein and Santana, who started their work so many years ago with adults, have come up with an insight and a protocol that has perhaps its most natural application in the classroom.

And, it could not be timelier. As intellectuals, college educators, employers and innovators reflect more and more on our current testing-centric education system—the decline of creativity, the collapse of critical thinking and the crisis of school funding—RQI enters with a decidedly low tech, low cost protocol that can radically transform learning. Switching the classroom dynamic and allowing kids to do what used to come naturally—ask questions—paves the way toward a coveted educational goal—creating critical thinkers for 21st century jobs and lives.

Naysayers believe that there can’t possibly be time for student generated questioning in the modern classroom with its performance demands and multiple assessments. To the contrary Rothstein says, “When students spend time on forming questions about what they need to learn it’s not a detour—it’s actually a shortcut. They just get there much more quickly and more effectively.” He’s not guessing about this; he’s seen it in practice. “This is what we have seen from educators all around the world—there are now over 200,000 educators using the question formulation technique.”

Teachers continue to inspire Rothstein and his colleagues at RQI. “There’s an art and a science to the question formulation technique. The science is—it’s a protocol. The art is in learning how to adapt it to what you need to be teaching what the students need to be learning,” he explains. RQI has now developed an extensive library of tools available for download from their site to help educators deploy the protocol in their classrooms.

QFT IN LEXINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
As a Lexington resident, Rothstein is particularly pleased about the enthusiasm that the Lexington Public Schools have expressed for the QFT program. “So many Lexington educators are using the QF technique and it’s really great,” he says. “When successful communities also recognize that they want their students to be asking better questions, that’s inspiring.”

The Lexington Education Foundation awarded a grant to Lexington middle schools to attend a RQI summer seminar. Social Studies specialists were interested in using the technique to foster “higher order thinking skills.” RQI did further professional development across the district to enhance teachers’ understanding and implementation of the protocol.

Karen Russell, an English teacher at LHS, was one of the QFT pioneers in Lexington. I talked with Russell by phone and she was very enthusiastic about using the QFT in the classroom.

“I often use it when I begin a text,” she says. “Students’ questions inform me about their interests and [through the process] they take ownership over where we are going with the text,” she explains. “It gives me a chance to listen to their concerns about what the text might address. Great texts have plasticity that way and can lead in many different directions.” Russell says it works particularly well with students who may not be so quick to speak up in a regular setting. “I often worry about the students who take more time to process and want to go deeper—where do we give them a chance for their voices to be heard? This process values that.”

Russell also refers back to the student’s questions throughout their study of the text. “They’re given permission…their thinking is valued and they know it’s not just the right answer I’m looking for. When they ask their own questions, the seed of their ideas has been planted early on and they’re growing their own ideas.”

Russell also appreciates that the QFT is being used across the history curriculum at LHS so the language and process is familiar to students. She finds the common practice creates fluency and ease for the students. “In a place like Lexington where so many students are articulate and so quick to have the answers, it’s a chance to slow down. It’s a very different way of thinking and it often frustrates the kids who always have a quick answer which isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “To work together and listen to what other students have to say is a benefit for them.”

Rothstein says all teachers like this about the QFT. “It creates a better community and it creates respect for different perspectives among the students.”

****

Through creation of this invaluable protocol, the Right Question Institute has taken a complicated skill and made it accessible to everyone in any setting that requires engagement, advocacy or problem-solving.

In education, where problems often seem insurmountable, this technique is low-tech, affordable and transformative. Encouraging collaboration, sparking curiosity and creativity, creating confidence and laying the groundwork for critical thinking can only increase our capacity as a nation to thrive in the 21st century and help our kids realize their potential in these challenging times.


To learn more about the work of the Right question Institute, visit them online at rightquestion.org.

Right Question Institute

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Click to read candidate statements for the March 6th Election.

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http://colonialtimesmagazine.com/8911-2/

Lexington Police Toys for Tots – Fill the Cruiser! Saturday, December 10

toysfortots

Bring a New, Unwrapped Toy

Join the Lexington Police and
Fill the Cruiser for Toys for Tots

Saturday, December 10
9AM – 1PM
1735 Mass Ave, in front of CVS

You can fill a little boy or girl’s holiday season with joy!

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‘The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts: Causes and Solutions’ at Temple Isaiah

Giles is a consultant with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and the Center for Social Innovation. She teaches at Lesley University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and has clinical background working with adolescents and young adults.

Giles is a consultant with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and the Center for Social Innovation. She teaches at Lesley University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and has clinical background working with adolescents and young adults.

Temple Isaiah will host a community conversation on the opiate crisis, titled “The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts: Causes and Solutions,” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at 55 Lincoln St., Lexington.

Sponsored by the Temple Isaiah Mental Health Team, the event will feature speaker Maggie Giles, who will explore the opiate trends in society as well as steps already taken to combat the problem.
Giles is a consultant with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and the Center for Social Innovation. She teaches at Lesley University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and has clinical background working with adolescents and young adults.

Refreshments will be served 7 p.m., and a Q&A and group discussion will follow the presentation. Temple Isaiah is handicapped-accessible.

For information: generalinfo@templeisaiah.net.

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The Cary Library Foundation Report to the Community

The Cary Library Foundation Annual Report

The Cary Library Foundation Annual Report

Click image to read report.

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Community Endowment of Lexington Distributes $30,000 to Local Nonprofits

From left to right, Leslie Zales; Marcia Gens, LexGWAC; George Murnaghan, Lex Eat Together; Ricki Pappo, LexGWAC; Susan Schiffer, LexFarm; Allison Guerette, LexFarm; Gerard Cody, Lexington Office of Public Health.

From left to right, Leslie Zales; Marcia Gens, LexGWAC; George Murnaghan, Lex Eat Together; Ricki Pappo, LexGWAC; Susan Schiffer, LexFarm; Allison Guerette, LexFarm; Gerard Cody, Lexington Office of Public Health.

Grants Will Aid Health & Human Services, Ecological Well-Being, And Community Building Initiatives

June 10, 2016: The Community Endowment of Lexington (CEL), an endowed fund of Foundation for MetroWest, recently hosted its third annual Grant Award Ceremony at the Lexington Community Center where they distributed $30,000 to four local nonprofit organizations in the areas of Health & Human Services, Ecological Well-Being, and Community Building. To date, CEL has granted more than $80,000 to 13 nonprofit organizations serving the Lexington community.

Leslie Zales, outgoing CEL Chair reflected on a “pioneering year”, especially in the areas of fundraising and community awareness. “It is truly wonderful watching this initiative take hold in Lexington – from the generosity of the community in response to the Leslie and Colin Masson Challenge to the diversity and number of organizations working to enrich our town, including tonight’s grantees.”

At the event, the Chinese American Association of Lexington, Lexx Restaurant, and Finnegan Development were recognized for their vision, commitment and community support as CEL Civic Founders. Additionally, the event celebrated the service of retiring board members Pauline Benninga, Lisa Spitz and youth representative to the Board, Hannah Cutler.

2016 Grantees:
• Lexington Community Farm Coalition ($10,000)
To enable the organization to move to the next level in their growth, providing consulting services for board development, an analytics dashboard, and a business plan for long-term planning across the different program areas.
• Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition ($7,500)
To run a large scale “Sustainability Fair” coordinating initiatives by and for Lexington town government, businesses, and residents highlighting health, energy, resilience, and sustainability in the face of climate change.
• Lexington Office of Public Health ($7,500)
To do a quantitative tick survey in order to assess the risks to the community and provide an educational public health program for residents about tick-borne diseases.
• Lex Eat Together ($5,000)
To pilot a transportation program for greater and broader access to their weekly dinners by those who do not have access to needed transportation.


About the Community Endowment of Lexington:

The Community Endowment of Lexington, an endowed fund of the Foundation for MetroWest, promotes a spirit of philanthropic giving to help enhance the quality of life for all Lexington residents now, and for the future. CEL is a permanent grantmaking source of funding to support our community needs and opportunities, and provide ways for donors to give back or leave a legacy to our community. For more information, visit www.lexingtonendowment.org.

About Foundation for MetroWest

Established in 1995, the Foundation for MetroWest is the only community foundation serving the 33 cities and towns in the region. We promote philanthropy in the region, help donors maximize the impact of their local giving, serve as a resource for local nonprofits and enhance the quality of life for all our residents. Since inception, the Foundation has granted $11.6 million to charitable organizations and currently stewards more than $16 million in charitable assets for current needs and future impact.

To learn more, please visitfoundationformetrowest.org or call 508.647.2260.
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Swing Night at LHS

Swing Night Organizers and Pura Vida Project Members, Catherine Fiore’17 (L) and Allie Antonevich’17 (R)

Swing Night Organizers and Pura Vida Project Members, Catherine Fiore’17 (L) and Allie Antonevich’17 (R)

By Ami Stix
Lexington High School’s annual Swing Night – an evening of fun with part of the proceeds going to the pura vida project, a student-run, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and young families throughout Central America.

Swing Night 2016 celebrated, once again, the classic American sounds of big band and swing with three hours of live music and dancing. More than 100 guests of all ages took to the dance floor in the Fiske gymnasium as the LHS Big Band, Jazz Ensemble and special guest, The Beantown Swing Orchestra took to the stage.

The evening was a delightful experience for those who could remember this uplifting music from their youth and for those that were new to the Big Band genre. The Boston Lindy Bomb Squad kicked off the evening with a lesson, teaching the basics to those born long after the boom in Big Band had ended.

The Boston Lindy Bomb Squad kicked off the evening with a lesson, inspiring young and old to take to the dance floor and swing!

The Boston Lindy Bomb Squad kicked off the evening with a lesson, inspiring young and old to take to the dance floor and swing!

Originally conceived as an event to raise money for various causes, Swing Night has become a staple of LHS Commencement week festivities as well as an opportunity to support a worthy cause. The first was in 2007 and called Dancing for Darfur. It featured Jazz Combo, Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Big Band. In this case, the Pura Vida Project of Lexington was the beneficiary. Families attend to support their musicians, graduates return to see friends and, increasingly, members of the community and local swing enthusiasts attend to hear some of the best live jazz west of Boston.

Above: Emily Zhang ‘17 and Ester Zhao ‘17

Above: Emily Zhang ‘17 and Ester Zhao ‘17

Alumni Involvement
LHS Alum, Frank Hsieh’89 has been instrumental in propelling the popularity of Swing Night with his tremendous 18-piece orchestra as well as spreading his passion for the elegance and vitality of this jazz form. Hsieh took jazz improvisation classes at LHS and played in various combos and ensembles. He continued playing during his time at Cornell, forming his own band as an undergraduate. An avid swing enthusiast and dancer, he decided to start a large swing orchestra upon moving back to Boston. He credits Jeff Leonard as the most influential person in helping him to reach a high level of artistry and focus as jazz musician and for inspiring him to pass on those lessons to younger musicians with his orchestra.

Special guest The Beantown Swing Orchestra

Special guest The Beantown Swing Orchestra

Now in its 10th year, the Beantown Swing Orchestra is considered to represent the future of Big Band. Hseih (pronounced Shay) founded the ensemble with a mission to promote classic big band swing music and its history to younger generations and keep this music alive for future generations to enjoy. His band, whose members range in age from their teens to their early thirties, is a continuation of the tradition of the danceable swing style of bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie.

LHS Jazz Ensemble trumpeter, Alex Tung’19, and Belmont resident, Clare Stanley, getting ready to try out a few steps.

LHS Jazz Ensemble trumpeter, Alex Tung’19, and Belmont resident, Clare Stanley, getting ready to try out a few steps.

The LHS Experience
Justin Aramati, director of the LHS Big Band considers swing music and swing dancing critical parts of the histories of Jazz and America. A term of praise for playing with a strong, rhythmic groove or drive, swing was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1945. It was the music of orchestras, led by masters like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, that first crossed societal barriers in appealing to young men and women of all races. “Swing Night is an opportunity for our students to experience that history in a direct and meaningful way. Getting to be a dance band for a night is fun! It’s also a way for us to connect with our community. It’s great to see so many people come out to dance,” says Aramati with a shy smile.
It is impressive to see these young musicians bring so much passion to classics that were popular with their grandparents. Music ranged from the elegant arrangements of Ellington and Carter to the playful rhythms of “Don’t Get Sassy” and “Count Bubba.” Featured student vocalist, Katharine Courtemanche was fresh and polished as she made Count Basie’s “Every Day I Have the Blues” her own.

Community Service
In the tradition of supporting worthy causes, student involvement also extends to Swing Night’s charitable partners. For the last few years, a portion of the proceeds have benefited the Pura Vida Project, a student-run, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and young families throughout Central America. The PVP is comprised of approximately forty students from Lexington High School and beyond who share a passion for Latin American culture and for meaningful philanthropy. This year’s contribution will benefit the Latin American Children’s Fund.
Student organizers, Allie Antonevich’17 and Catherine Fiore’17–with a small army of PVP volunteers–managed the logistics of the evening: staffing the event and making sure that band directors and their musicians could focus on the evening’s performance.

Both young women found the project incredibly gratifying for a variety of reasons and expressed great satisfaction in being part of an effort that brought the community together for a common purpose. “I like that we are working for a cause outside of LHS. It’s something that is bigger than all of us,” Ms. Fiore pointed out. Swing Night represents Lexington at its best: its students, its music program and the ever-present desire to give back to the community. The evening has become a multi-generational celebration of culture, music and the sheer joy of dance. If you missed it this year, make sure your dancing shoes are shined for next June.

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