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The Nativity, a history

Nativity 2010The High Mowing Nativity has been performed every year since the school began during World War II. Mrs. Emmet directed the Nativity from the early days of the school until the 1970s when Sabina Nordoff, the Eurythmy teacher, took over. The torch was passed to Patrice Pinette in the 1990s after Sabina became ill and passed away, and this year Patrice and Raven Garland are co-directing. We spoke to Patrice, Raven and Eunice Chalmers, who has been a member of the High Mowing community since the 1970s, about the Nativity’s history.

Eunice Chalmers: Mrs. Emmet’s conception of the Nativity was extremely aesthetic, and that meant it was an aesthetic experience for both the people in it and those watching it. She had amazing antique costumes that she had collected from her travels around the world.

Patrice Pinette: Mrs. Emmet’s vision was wise: No matter what your beliefs, you can look at traditional paintings of the Nativity and be moved. That artistic element of inner freedom imbues High Mowing’s Nativity as well.

Raven Garland: It’s a series of tableaus—and in moving from tableau to tableau it becomes a pageant with movement and music. Patrice brings in these beautiful paintings for the students to look at, and that’s another way they embody the characters.

Originally, there were two Nativities. There was the “Little Nativity”—we had 7th and 8th graders at the time—which was spoken and was incredibly charming. But for the second nativity, the Nativity that exists today, Mrs. Emmet thought the depth of the experience was diminished by the spoken word and that it should be music and Eurythmy.  

Nativity 1956

Patrice: While each student plays his or her part, be it shepherd, angel or king, Joseph or Mary—the qualities of those roles are potential in all of us. Which ones shall we develop and express? Perhaps we are most like the innkeeper—the kind stranger who is bewildered, but stands in awe of the mystery happening in his own back yard!

Raven: The kings are astronomers for whom the stars were a legible script. The shepherds are of the land and possess warmth of heart, and the angels are the divine, the unseen helpers of people. And the way we direct the students in their movement gives them insight into what energy to bring to those roles.

Eunice: Mrs. Emmet was very interested in the characterization of the individual personas, in the embodiment of the story’s characters by the students.

Raven: Mary represents a willingness to carry something new, and that’s why the story is universal: that there is the possibility of something new being born that could save the world. It’s an archetypal story.

Patrice: Students feel the power of that. When I asked this year’s seniors to reflect on their experiences of the Nativity, they described it as “moving,” “peaceful,” “powerful,” “shining” and “heartfelt.” They also appreciate how it brings the community together.

Raven: The audience comes in and they’re quiet from the beginning, there’s a sort of reverence.

Eunice: It’s a very intimate experience, the scene just surrounds you. It’s almost as if Mrs. Emmet designed the Big Room with the Nativity in mind.

This year the Nativity will be performed on December 14th and 15th in the Big Room. The Saturday performance will be at 5pm, followed by Nativity Dinner at 6pm and an Alumni/ae-Parent Potluck in the Emmet House. The Sunday performance will be at 8pm.

Posted by Kurt Schmidlein in Faculty Musings on Tuesday December, 10, 2013 at 12:28PM


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