Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 


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"The world needs them"

My week of icy travel and obsessive Doppler radar-watching started with a potent “goosebump moment” on Monday morning. To see what triggered it, click here to see a cell-phone video recording and Melody Butts’ great story in News and Notes.

What follows is a related exchange with an a cappella judge from Florida, where DA’s singing group XIV Hours competed last weekend in a national competition.

Dear Mr. Ulku-Steiner and Mr. Hark,

I acted as a judge at this weekend’s ICHSA Semifinal competition in Tampa, where a group of your students, XIV Hours, performed. I spoke to them and their director, Mr. Meyer, afterward, but I thought it was important that I reach out to you, as well, to tell you what an impressive group of young women and men they are—and what a credit to your institution.

Their introduction stated that their program grew out of campus-wide discussions that had been ongoing at DA regarding “hook-up” culture, relationships, and especially, if I remember correctly, male-female relationship dynamics. The group took the stage and performed an entirely unique 10-minute program of popular songs strung together with powerful dialogue and imagery. Their presentation rendered poignant commentary on topics that are so timely for the students, and which were presented with an absolutely breathtaking balance of wisdom and innocence that brought this adjudicator to tears and won several raving fans in the process.

I have been in the a cappella world for 15 years, and have been adjudicating these competitions nearly as long; I have never seen anything at any level that matched the maturity, emotional thrust, and importance of this group’s set. They conducted themselves with dignity, class, and professional polish in a high-energy situation. I was floored, and wished desperately that we could have sent them on to New York to give them an even bigger stage for what they’re doing.

It always stings to reach the end of the road in a competition, and it can be hard to take as consolation the fact that your performance made a difference. Nevertheless, after speaking very briefly with them, I had the distinct impression that they would be able to do just that. I thank you for the conversation that you and your faculty have allowed to take place on the DA campus; I hope that these students always tell that story, and always believe it. It will put them in the minority for much of their lives, as you know, but they are courageous and the world needs them. You, your school, and Mr. Meyer have my deepest gratitude for the impact you’re making in these students’ lives, and the way that they will impact the world they inherit.

Warm Regards,

James Harrington


Dear James, 

I write this reply with tears in my eyes – the second time this morning that our students have moved me to this (somewhat embarrassing on a dreary Monday morning) place. 

XIV Hours shared their piece with our Upper School this morning. Your assessment was right on target. Their skill, maturity, wisdom and courage were at once humbling and inspiring to watch. Without a doubt, they have taken the messages offered by our culture, remixed them with the conversations we’ve had on our campus, combined them with their own brave spirits, and produced something beautiful and true. I couldn’t be more proud to work and parent (a boy and a girl, as luck would have it!) at Durham Academy. 

Thank you for recognizing that prizes and rankings have their place, and that sometimes these markers don’t capture the full effect of a piece like this one. Our students were indeed disappointed not to advance in the competition, but they are already on fire with ways to share their work with other audiences. 

Thank you for taking the time to write. I hope that Michael can share this exchange with the student singers, who ought to know that their sacrifices (amidst a lot of academic work, between two sports seasons, on the heels of an intense musical) are paying off in the form of real, powerful, world-changing art. 


Posted by mulkus on Friday February, 27, 2015


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