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The Gathering | Aiglon Magazine

The Gathering | Aiglon Magazine
The Gathering | Aiglon Magazine

Protest. Pilgrimage. Festivals. Coming together en masse can be an incredibly moving, special, and unique experience – but why is that? Why do we gather, and what is the impact?

Moving as one: hearts, minds, bodies. Whether in protest, for celebration, prayer, or comfort, coming together en masse is always a unique experience. As psychologist and father of modern crowd theory, John Turner writes, crowds are “an adaptive mechanism that frees human beings from the restrictions of, and allows them to be more than just, individual persons.” But when the opportunity to be part of a collective identity is lost, something else is lost too, says Mr. Tomas Duckling, Deputy School Director. Before the pandemic, Aiglon met together as a school regularly. Indeed, these meetings – meditations, in particular – have always been a cornerstone of Aiglon life. “What makes Aiglon special is the people, the connections, and our emphasis on character development,” says Mr. Duckling. “Our meditations are extraordinary: the pin-drop silence is profound. I strongly believe that gathering to do something together has a fundamental impact on people’s behaviors and, therefore, on their character development.”

And then, suddenly, gatherings were no longer possible – and their loss was keenly felt. “We began to see behavioral issues appear when we could no longer meet as a community, and here we realized the profound importance of gathering,” says Mr. Duckling. “Not having meditation and not meeting as a group was having a significant impact on our understanding of formal traditions, of how to behave in groups, and our understanding of our basic founding principles. When restrictions were lifted, we were determined to come back together as swiftly as possible.”

The school’s leadership was also determined to do more than simply go back to ‘before’. So, alongside meditations, a new concept was introduced – The Gathering, a coming-together of all students and staff to celebrate across art forms. It marks a desire to turn assemblies into celebrations. “We’ve always had assemblies, and while knowing what’s going on is crucial, they sometimes felt a little bulletin-heavy!” says Mr. Duckling. “Assemblies should offer a perfect way to come together and celebrate our key values, and who we are, so we wanted more. And that’s how The Gathering came about.”

The Gathering now takes place every term. It is always themed around an Aiglon value, such as challenge, respect, or diversity, and an alum is often invited to speak, reinforcing the link to the school’s heritage. Student performances showcase Aiglon’s creative and artistic side – “we want The Gathering to be entirely student-driven,” says Mr. Duckling – delivered by the likes of Ava Goldberg. Ava (Clairmont, Class of 2024) had never taken part in a drama performance before she came to Aiglon but now, having performed in The Gathering alongside her Drama IB, she’s a seasoned veteran. While she finds drama fulfilling personally, she’s also loving the joy of being part of something bigger. “I’ve been in The Gathering three times, and each time it’s been great,” says Ava. “The audience fuels the performance. I get a lot of energy from it. When I see people laugh, it makes me shine brighter on stage. At the end, everyone's coming up to congratulate you, saying how much fun they had just watching it, and they feel like they were on stage with you just by being there. It feels more like a community, because it’s a super-fun thing to collaborate on and everyone talks about it.”

Enjoy the Freedom

Meanwhile, The Gathering has led, inexorably, to another event – The Scattering. At the first Gathering, poet and alumnus Karl Kirchwey (Delaware, 1973) talked about the definition of a gathering. In philosophy, he said, it is useful when defining something to think about its opposite. And the opposite of a gathering is, of course, a scattering. “The Scattering takes place a day before graduation,” says Mr. Duckling. “It focuses on the group that is leaving, and is entirely planned by students.”

Music is key to both The Gathering and The Scattering. Head of Music Mr. Tom Dobney says he recognized the power of music to bring people together from an early age. “I was a chorister at St John’s College in Cambridge – I made some of the best music of my life from the age of seven to 13!” he says. “I knew the importance of singing from that point on, for sure. When big groups of humans gather the world over, for everything from a football match to a religious service, singing is an integral part of it. So we wanted to make singing together an integral part of The Gathering experience.”

Indeed, using these opportunities to sing together has countless benefits, says Mr. Dobney: it’s now generally accepted that communal singing boosts mental wellbeing. “In Gatherings and in the meditations, there’s often a lot of very serious themes and thinking about who you are and where you want to go. But you’re not thinking about any of that when you’re singing. You’re just in a moment with everyone around you making a beautiful sound and enjoying the togetherness and the freedom.”

A Sense of Community

Of course, every musical Gathering experience is different – performances so far have ranged from a classical harpist to a rock band. But there are always two big communal songs that bring the whole school together in harmony. “When it comes to communal singing, we try to make it as tuneful as possible, of course. But really, we want it to be raucous, to be more about the togetherness,” says Mr. Dobney. “My only objective at the start was just for it to be joyful. That was it. And for the pupils and the teachers to come together and just really enjoy singing in each other’s company, dispelling any sort of uncomfortableness at the start.”

The songs can be anything, too, from "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen to an Italian aria. “We sing popular and classical songs often with a message that resonates with students and the theme,” says Mr. Dobney. “But some don’t have a message – we just sing them for the joy of it. And an unexpected consequence of singing has been dancing. It creates a great atmosphere to see teachers and students, arm in arm, bopping away and coming up with their own moves.”

So, what effects have The Gathering and The Scattering had on the student community? They are already creating new traditions, says Mr. Duckling. At the last Scattering, he remembers, the departing Year 13 class decided that they wanted to sing Journey’s rock classic "Don’t Stop Believin’" to the school. “They went in together, turned around and just sang it. There was barely a dry eye in the house. And right away, the Year 12s were already thinking about what they wanted to sing. When I’m old and retired, I’m pretty sure The Gathering and The Scattering will still be happening.”

And Ava agrees. “I think it’s important to take a break from real life for a second – to take a minute to laugh and not just focus on the important things. The Gathering gives us a sense of community and a chance for all of us to say what we’re feeling. We don’t often get the chance to gather as a school: this is our time to be together. I know that after I leave, I’ll always remember The Gatherings at Aiglon.”

Originally published in Issue 21 of the Aiglon Magazine
Written by Lucy Jolin



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