Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DANCING WITH THE DINOSAURS

Caryn Ott Hillman, Guest Teaching Artist



Oh Yeah, baby!  Dinosaur was the theme to this year's Opera For All and the song choices were soooooooo much fun!
Each song took on a different theme for me, as far as choreography:


Michael Jackson's Bad:

Without a doubt, MJ had a dance style all his own.  There is NO other way to dance to his music, so why fight it?   There were moves that I specifically took from different videos, like "The Lean" from Smooth Criminal, "Walk and Snap" from Beat It and the famous "Moonwalk."  The kids loved-loved-loved this dance and I loved teaching it! 

Katy Perry's Roar

I was excited about this song because of how strong it is.  I incorporated boxing and iconic super hero moves to personify the power of Strength!  Plus, I just had to make the kids real vocalize a Roar every time is was sung in the music.

1980's Walk The Dinosaur

This song takes me back because I was young when this song came out on the radio.  The 1980's had many style of dances that helped define that decade.  Some of my inspirations were from the movie The Breakfast Club and  the rap duo, Kid-N-Play.

Pharell's Happy

What makes me love this song so much is the clapping rhythm that exists throughout the song!  Every time I hear it on the radio in my car, I take my hands off the wheel to "Clap along if you feel what Happiness means to you."  Naturally, I added clapping.  And since I can never make any dance simple, I have different rhythms of clapping layered on top of each other by different groups in each class. (Yes - for this reason, Happy was the most challenging song that I taught!  That, and the fact that  - IT IS SUPER FAST!)  Thank goodness, the kids were proud of themselves when the nailed it.
 
 
 
IN LOVE WITH CHANGING FACES OF CHICAGO

 
     This Spring, Opera For All has chosen schools that seem to represent our changing world here in Chicago. Chase, Reilly and McAuliffe are three of the five schools that I choreographed for.  Based on seeing and hearing the children file into the auditoriums, I was compelled to utilize my very basic Spanish to connect with these 4th and 5th graders.  When instructing my dances, I used words like: durecha y izcierda (right and left), manos (hands),  pied (foot), rodilla (knee) and of course uno-dos-tres-quarto...

It may seem so simple to me and you but for these children, they appreciate being taken seriously.  If I can communicate with them easier and help them comprehend what I am asking them to do, why would I not try to speak in a language they feel more comfortable using?  

     I am realizing that whether we want it or not, the Latino and Hispanic cultures are becoming more and more dominant as our community is expanding.  It is inevitable.  I don't want to fight this metamorphosis, I want to change with the times.  Just like adapting to the new technology around us, we need to accept shifts in the way we USED to do things.  We need to  celebrate new additions to our community and culture.  We need to embrace the people that feel unwelcome and help them root themselves in our neighborhoods.  We all come from some line of immigrants and our ancestors were forced to endure this same transition.  Why can't we learn from the past and move past "scary" differences and offer an open heart without judgment?

     I, for one, am continuing to brush up on my Spanish (and technology knowledge) through Duo-lingo.  Next year, I hope to incorporate more verbs into my Spanish instruction and connect with these darling faces that are staring back at me.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Song Creation

Becky Sorenson, Opera for All Teaching Artist




I taught both at Disney II and subbed at McAuliffe during song creation, and it was interesting to get to see two different takes on how to tackle this challenge. At Disney, we had the luxury of students who have a great music teacher who has taught them to sing using solfege, however at McAuliffe, the students don't have any regular music education in their school.

At Disney, Justin took the approach of calling on students, asking them for a short collection of solfege syllables to fit a bit of text. We gathered about 4 ideas per bit of text, and then played and sang them for the class. Next, we had the students put their heads down and vote on which melody they liked best. I made sure to get suggestions from everyone in the class, even those that don't usually speak up! We made sure they had post-it notes on which to write down their ideas, so they had time to think. I also explained that often steps and small skips are more memorable melodies than huge jumps across the scale. This approach worked very well!

Kaitlin took a different approach at McAuliffe, splitting the students into groups and giving them cut out numbers in lieu of solfege syllables. the students then arranged the numbers into 4 beat patterns and after working in groups, shared them with the class. Again, we talked about the elements that make a memorable melody that is easy to sing, and guided the students toward what makes musical sense to their ears. The result were melodies that are VERY memorable (even as a sub, I can still sing all of their songs)!


video

Monday, February 9, 2015

Reilly Elementary: Opera for All- A Terrific Tale

Megan Besley- Opera for All Teaching Artist

A picture was drawn by a student, outside of OFA time, for his own pleasure. We were very impressed! It inspired a slideshow made up of dinosaur drawings by all of the students that was part of our Winter Showcase. We hope he submits a drawing for the T-shirt contest!

The teachers and students at Reilly are a dream. The students are always excited to see us and greet us with hugs. They groan in disappointment when the sessions are over, and reluctantly get back to the business of school. Their enthusiasm shines through in the work they are doing.

They've created two wonderful stories, one set in a mall, and one in a karaoke salad bar, with colorful characters and ridiculous and comedic situations. We thoroughly enjoyed watching them create their melody for the song, using numbers. They had very good editing skills and a good ear for what worked and what didn't.

The final product is something they are quite proud of. I look forward to hearing their ideas about costumes, sets and props, assigning the leading roles, and starting to put it all together. I know that their final product will be something they will remember for a long time!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Opera for All, Semester Two!

Justin Berkowitz, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

Well, while we’re only two weeks into the winter and spring semester of Opera for All at McAuliffe Elementary School (thanks to a snow day at the beginning of the month) things are already off and running for the fifth grade students!

This week was an exciting and important one, as we began the process of transforming the amazing lyrics that our students wrote during the fall into a melody that will guide and shape the song, which will be written for them to perform during their shows.  Our kids have some really cool and crazy plots involving very hungry dinosaurs, drowning dinosaurs and some evil dinosaur robots!  One of the challenges that comes with transforming these lyrics into a song is just getting all of the kids to remember how each of the different verses go – but with a little encouragement from Kaitlin and myself, they start “rapping” their words in no time.

Since McAuliffe doesn’t have a music program where the kids are learning solfege or sight reading, it was up to Kaitlin and I to figure out how to go about teaching them about pitch and the order of pitches for writing a melody.  This is a difficult concept to explain to even classically trained singers and music teachers – so figuring out how to adopt some of our training for fifth graders took a little bit of time! 

We decided that the best route was to teach them a basic diatonic scale using numbers (1 through 5) and create a sort of “number bank” that the kids could utilize while making melody.  We started by teaching the kids that any song can be sung on numbers.  Jingle Bells seemed like an easy one to transfer to numbers (3 3 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5 1…2, 3 etc.) so we started by singing this song with them on numbers.  Then, we broke the kids up into groups and had them start composing – asking them in groups of three or four students to fill a box with some numbers. The only rule is that for each box (or measure) you have to have 4 numbers between 1 and 5.  With that information, the kids were off, thinking of little diatonic melodies without even realizing they were composing!!!



As the kids filled their boxes with numbers, we created a larger chart on the board, so that every small group could offer up one box (measure) that would be on the board, which leaves us with somewhere between 6 and 8 measures to start with.  The next step will come next week as we try and organize these little measures to make the most beautiful melody we can! 
 
 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Back to School

Julianne Olson, Teaching Artist



               After a very successful first semester, the students came back from winter break with just as many creative ideas to kick off 2015 as they had blown us away with in 2014!  With an ambitious semester ahead of us consisting of song writing, choreography, role assignments, creation of sets and costumes, and more, we wanted to get off to an upbeat start by having fun and using our imaginations!  Our first class after the break, the kids started off the day by enthusiastically singing “A Terrific Tale.”  Following that, the children laughed hysterically as groups competed to see which group could repeat the most tongue twisters in a row, and who could do it the fastest:  “Toy Boat, Toy Boat, Toy Boat…” and “Unique New York.”  Then they created very unique stories in the drama game:  “Fortunately, Unfortunately.”  Here’s how the game works: one student starts with a simple sentence such as:  “There was a monkey who wanted to be famous.”  The next person adds on to the story by saying, “Fortunately, the monkey had a lot of money…”  The next student contributes by saying, “Unfortunately the monkey had bad breathe…”  The game switches between the two adverbs until the story is complete.  Between the classes, we had stories about very eclectic dreams one can have a night time, exploding bird nests, and walking pickles in heaven.  In effort to keep the creativity flowing, we played a classroom game of Pictionary.   In rotation, a group of three students would run to the board to draw the secret subject which I would reveal to them, while another group would guess what it was.  This game proved to make our goal of ‘having fun,’ a goal met, as the drawings under strict time constraint, left much up to the imagination, and for those guessing, a difficult task indeed.

                The grandiose and witty minds of the students never cease to amaze me and I can’t wait to see what they continue to create!   The experiences that have been the most noteworthy to me are the breakthroughs we see when students who may have started off the fall semester very shy, now are evolving into the most creative and active participants in the classroom!  That is what Opera for All is all about, to help students find their inner artist and to instill confidence in each student as they grow in their understanding of the world of opera, the arts, production and performing.  As the year moves forward, I believe OFA will be a catalyst for such growth. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fall at Chicago Opera Theater's Opera for All

Heather Keith - COT Assistant Teaching Artist

The winter showcase was a great success this year! I am the assistant teaching artist at both Chase Elementary and Reilly Elementary this year and I feel like all the students at both my schools showed great pride in their accomplishments.

For this year’s showcase we decided to share a potion of the scripts and lyrics the kids have been working so hard on this semester. We also learned part of a song written by COT teaching artist Justin Callas entitled “ A Terrific Tale”. I was so impressed to see how quickly the students picked up on the melody and the song. Their natural musical instincts are extremely impressive. 

Along with showing the students written and musical accomplishments, we included their dinosaur drawings in the showcase. At Chase we featured students in the program and at Reilly we had a slideshow displaying several student pictures. The goal of this is to share with our audience all the different art forms that go into creating an opera.

We ended the showcase with the children dancing to “Oye Como Va” and I think this was something they were all really proud of. I remember while teaching the students the dance, many were unsure of their abilities and nervous they would forget the choreography. Many students practice outside of class time and helped each other learn some of the trickier parts. The extra work paid off, because by the time the music was on the students were all smiles!

Both schools had a great turn out and it was nice to see the parents of the student’s get just as excited as we are for the final spring performance.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Preparing for a whole new classroom.

Jennifer D'Agostino, Teaching Artist

This year, I am preparing to teach 5 classes of 1st grade students at George Armstrong Elementary. This is obviously a little unique since Opera For All is typically geared at 4th to 6th grade. I am very excited to see how the 1st grade students and their teachers will react. I know we are asking them to complete a huge task: to write their own opera in 34 weeks!

A lot of my approach to preparation includes considering the interests and abilities of a typical 1st grader. There are a couple activities in our master schedule that I am thinking about moving to earlier, so our students have plenty of time to master the class dance, their character creation, and learning our class song.

Another aspect of teaching 1st graders that is considered is their attention span. We are changing the classes from our typical 50-minute session to 30-minutes. By allowing shorter bursts of activities that are repeated weekly, I think we will have a lot of fun singing, dancing, and acting every week!

My Assistant Teaching Artist for this semester is Matt McNabb, who is new to COT. I'm excited to get to know him and his strengths! It's great to have both male and female represented in the classroom!
 
In my lesson planning, I have utilized websites like Pinterest to find craft activities, and researched different ways to integrate Illinois core curriculum standards for writing, reading, team building, science, and language of the arts. This year, our topic is "Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tale," and our students are taking a field trip to the Chicago Field Museum. My main objectives in lesson planning are to create fun activities that keep our students engaged, while working toward an impressive end presentation. I can't wait to see our students costume design pictures of their dinosaur costumes, sing the class dinosaur song, and create a unique storyline!

The School Year is Starting!

Linden Christ, Manager of Education and Outreach

The school bells are ringing!   The Education Team enjoyed a wonderful summer planning and preparing for this 2014-2105 school year.  We are grateful for the help of our outstanding summer intern, Grace McIntosh.  Our Education Assistant, Jessica Weber, had her first baby boy!   His name is Manny and he's our COT mascot!   

COT Staff with Jessica and Manny
 
For the first time, Chicago Opera Theater had a summer Teen program at Solorio Academy High School.   Our Chicago Opera Theater for Teens performed The Music Man under the direction of Dr. D'Agostino & Mr. Roemer.  The teens sang to a packed audience of family and friends.  

Enjoy this short video of their performance!  
 
 
 

Our Opera for All & COT for Teen programs both begin on September 30th.   The Opera for All program is at six Chicago Public Schools with six lead Teaching Artists and six Assistant Teaching Artists.   The students theme for this year is "Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tale".   The 450 OFA students will be going on a trip to The Field Museum to meet Sue and other dinosaurs which will inspire them to create their own stories that will be turned into their own mini classroom opera!

Keep checking in to our Education Blog weekly to learn more about our programs in our schools!

Our Summer - A Collaborative Blog from the Summer COT 4 Teens Program

Teaching artist, Jennifer D'Agostino asked the students in this summer's COT 4 Teens program to write about their experience.  What they sent her could have been summarized, but is better straight from the students themselves.
 
It has been an honor joining this program once again. I liked this program because it has helped me open up more, I felt more confident in myself, and I met a lot of amazing people that I would probably not even met if it wasn't for this awesome program. This program has helped me improve by helping me speak up because I was really shy before COT4T came to our high school. My favorite part for the 1st semester was when I learned the choreography for the hot box girls dance for Guys and Dolls. My favorite part for the 2nd semester was when we went to go see Queenie Pie, that was actually my first time seeing a musical and it was amazing. My favorite part for the summer program was when we learned the different songs for The Music Man. I grew as the summer continued by being more open to people and feeling more confident in myself. The advice that I would give to people who are scared/interested in auditioning for a group like COT4T will be that it really gives you a boost of confidence and you would meet a lot of amazing people.  - Valeria Lopez

I've enjoy doing the Summer semester of COT4T @ Solorio H.S. and really feel excited by joining the summer program. This is my third time of being part in the COT4T. When I join the past two programs in Solorio, I learn to improve my skills as I enter into the room and I strengthen my skills with the summer program as well. My favorite parts were the fun games that aim for learning the concepts within the program's main area of interest and the process of learning the materials.I have some reservations on the whole thing be hide performing and others involving with the arts. I grow very fast as the summer continued then I just expanded much wider than myself knowing its after all. My only advice for anyone interested in auditioning for COT4T is to be confident. - Angel Rodriguez

This program helped me improve in my singing by the instructors of the program teaching us how to make our voices louder, nastier( for the pick-a-little ladies), or better. They taught us how to make our mouths larger to make the vowel sound nicer. They also taught us to pronounce the consonant more so the song can be understandable. My favorite part of the program were when we all got to review the group songs and the choreography for the song 76 trombones. Another one of my favorite parts was figuring out the costumes and props, but my most favorite part of the program was painting the sets for the play. As the summer continued, I got more used to working in a big group and having to interact with people I've never seen before. For people who are scared to join groups like COT4T, all I can say is not to be nervous and believe in yourself. I thought I wasn't going to make it in and I was worried that I wouldn't have fun in the program, but I was wrong. I made it in and had lots of fun. So in the end, I met lots of new people, I had fun and we put on a great production. So if want to try out COT4T go ahead and give it a try. -Xochilt Zamorano

I enjoyed the COT4T program very much. I really liked working with the other students in the program. My favorite part of the program was preforming. It was a ton of fun despite the fact that I was SO nervous before went on. It was nice because performing made me feel like all of our hard work really paid off. Something else I enjoyed was singing the the snarly voices for pick-a-little talk-a-little. I also enjoyed creating the sets and playing games with the other participants. As the summer progressed I learned more about singing and acting techniques. It helped me to improve my singing,, as well as my acting. I think that if anyone is interested in this program they should definitely sign up, even if they're nervous about the audition. You should try your best during the interview. Even if your nervous, try your best to seem confident during the interview. - Jaqueline Navarro

What I liked about the program was that it was a good way to come over my stage fright. It helped me improve my group working skills, working well with others, and being a leader. I'm going to have to say painting the sets and painting Robert's face was my favorite part. Pull your self together and get out there... that's all my advice.
-Cynthia Marin   

 
My first time being in COT i was getting out of my comfort zone because I had no intention on singing on stage and especially singing opera.But during my time in COT I got surrounded by other people that actually stood a chance and I got a bit worried but I stood my ground and actually got the lead part for the part "Sweeney Todd" and I became more confident in my singing by far. During the summer i joined again and it was like but I had more confidence in my singing which helped me in the group parts.Over all it was a very fun and respectful program to join. If you decide to join remember, its about patience the key to be successful in what your are playing as.- Roberto Hernandez

The program was fun, a great thing to do during summer. I learned some skills about professional singing thanks to the program. My favorite part was the final performance. I think I grew this summer by gaining confidence about singing and acting. Advice for people joining is to enjoy the program and give it your all.-Anthony Lopez

The program really helped me with my singing, you guys taught me a lot about how my posture really affects my singing and how to warm up my voice before singing and how to drop my jaw to create a better sound. My favorite parts about the program is when we did the barbershop quartet stuff. I would just say not to be scared and just give it all you got.- Justin Ramirez

i really enjoyed this program it helped me to improve my people skills my favorite part was the pride i felt when we performed and did good i didnt have any reservations about this program and i highly suggest the same to anyone who joins the program have fun and let go. -Ismael Rubio

The only thing I disliked about the program was the lunches (but I mean, they were provided by the school, so what can you expect?). Everything else, from the students to the teachers, from the costumes to the final performance, were amazing. It really pulled me out of my comfort zone. My favorite part was making friends among a group of people who share my passions, even though meeting new people was probably the scariest part initially. My advice to any potential COT4T students is to realize that lots of the kids are just as scared as you are. Get out there and be brave, you've nothing to lose. -Caitlyn Menchaca (<3)

I loved the program, it was an awesome thing to do over the summer because it helped me improve in many ways. It helped me a lot with communicating and interacting with older people since the program was for people of every year in high school. I learned a lot of things for singing like posture how to make something louder without it getting ugly and warm up activities for singing. Most importantly I learned how to stand and talk on stage while acting, I got very comfortable and got better at acting on stage because I had stage fright. For people that are stage fright I would really recommend this program because not only does it keep you safe here in school providing you with a safe environment, food and nice climate but it helps you with skills on singing and acting and you get to meet a lot of people and professional people that can help you with a career and it makes you get comfortable with other people and on stage. - Jennifer Garcia

This program is very fun and it is worth doing more and more but I will and only could do three more of this program. I meet new people that I would have never talked to or I never would have known. But from this program I talked to a lot of people that is now my friends that I am gladed to say their my friends. That is the best part of this program.To talk to people that I would never talked to.You guys should do this program because you can meet a lot of new people and it is worth doing and exploring something that you never know about yourself. I grow so much this summer because I meet so many people and I gotten use to talking in front of people. - Lyndsay Brady

I have not been bored at all since this program has started. Not only did I finally get experience for future purposes, but I also got it by doing something that I'm experienced with and love. To those who will be joining the programs later on, all I have to say is be yourself. Pretend no one is watching you during the actual performance even though they are. If you think you can't sing, just wait until you join this program. Singing is only sustained talking. (; Quote by Harold Hill himself. Enjoy your time in the program because it goes by fast! First day, you'll be learning to sing, next thing you know you're on stage performing. Good luck, everyone! - Frankie Torres

This program helped me improved by learning to be in the audience and to not be scared. My favorite parts was learning how to dance the new moves our teacher showed us. I learned to do my performance without fear and not worrying what other say about you and your performance. For the the people who are scared in front of the audience is that to focus on what they're doing and not worry who are watching them because that's what makes them freak out in the audience and to try their best. -Julissa Mosqueda

The program helped me to feel more comfortable working in groups. My
favorite part was playing those games with our class mates that helped
us with our performance. For people who are scared to join this
program i would just say they shouldn't be because the teachers in the
program try to make you feel comfortable while trying to push you to
your limits to be the best you could be.- Cynthia Alvarez

The program helped me improve with my confidence level. 
My favorite parts were when everyone was on their A game because it made the production better.
I learned to expand my voice and sing in different registers. 
People shouldn't be scared to audition because it's a safe open minded community who rely on one another to improve.  -Anais Macias

The program was the bees knees it was off the chain it was the b-o-m-b the hot tamales, It was #dope. It helped me with my singing drastically since i was a complete novice to singing. My favorite parts of course where the ones im in and the Pick A Little Ladies, also the chasing sing. If you are sincerely nervous for auditioning just STOP because you need to be open and silly to join! #swag -Salvador Lopez

I loved this program, Both instructors worked as hard as they could to always maintain a positive attitude towards us and help most of us come out of our shells. I feel that I am now able to sing songs with higher notes, the two instructors (Dr. D'Agostino and Mr.Roemer) really helped me understand that nothing is impossible with confidence and being able to believe in yourself (after all, as Audrey Hepburn said, Even the word impossible says "Im Possible") My favorite parts were learning new songs and dances together as a group. I am grateful to have experienced this. -Nancy Contreras 

I really liked the program alot! i honestly thought that it would be boring but it was actually fun to sing and dance old good music , before COT4T i saw dancing and singing really boring and dumb , but singing and dancing the music man really changed my way of seeing dancing and singing . dancing and singing was boring at first , but now that i experienced dancing and singing , it made me think that dancing and singing is really fun. i really enjoyed being in quartet , and singing with a high pitch voice , witch made everyone laugh , but the best part was doing the performance , COT4T really made my summer a lot more fun. Thank you for letting me in the Chicago opera theater .  - Job Salgado

It was a pleasure being in this program. I simply adored everything. I had so much fun. I rather be here than anywhere else. It's so sad that we have to leave, I really don't want to. Anyways I want to come back here in the fall! -luis cejeda

I really liked the program because it helped me improved on my singing skills. my favorite parts were designing props and when we were practicing and people messed up it made us all laugh. I learned how to control my voice.i really loved being a part of this team because i learned new skills and i also made a very good amount of friends. -Citlali Garcia

The COT4T program was fun and new experience to go through during the summer. I had performed before but never like this, normally I would only do ballroom performances but never show choir like events. The instructors were really kind to me also because they had asked me to choreograph a small dance number which made me feel important since my main passion is dance. Not only me but others in the program were also recognized for their amazing talents. I know i'll find myself doing this again eventually. -Jonathan Patino 

COT4T helped me improve my skills to work with other people because back than I would not be patient with people. My favorite parts of the show was when we were pretending to play instruments on 76 trombones. My advice for people who want to joined this program is try something you have never done because you are going to look back and say to yourself I should have done something different. -Francesca Muro

I enjoyed this program, and I also had a great time this summer with instruments also with the little firecrackers throwing them on the floor scaring people in shipoopi. It also help my improve on being more comfortable with other people around me.  -Miriam Mendoza

I personally enjoyed this program. I recommend this program to all who are interested to join. My Favorite part was shipoopi it was a very fun scene - Aylin Sanchez

I had an amazing time this summer in this program. It gave me confidence about doing things I don't normally do everyday. Now I see that there is other things to do in the summer besides football or other sports. Thank you for everything. :) - Marsean Reynolds

I really enjoyed being a part of COT. I had a lot of fun and learned some new things regarding singing and acting. -Kevin Castro

I have learned a lot of new skills this summer. It was great being in this program because it not only taught me to take a job serious but to become a more responsible person. I loved playing interacting games with everyone. Every one who is afraid to join the program shouldn't have anything to worry about. It is a great place to be in. You learn new things but have so much fun at the same time. -KELLY DOMINGUEZ

This summer was very different. In COT4T I learned alot of life lesson advice and skills. I liked when we got to work on our own or in small groups to practice stuff. I enjoyed the program alot and it helped me not be scared of audiences. I also learned to stay committed to something and how responsibility. It was very helpful and I will miss it a lot! -Giselle Perez

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer with Opera for All

Grace McIntosh - COT Summer Education Intern

My experience with Chicago Opera Theater has been nothing short of exceptional! The students' performance of "Jazz on Fire" at Reilly Elementary was a perfect introduction to the Opera for All mission. I jumped right into grading post tests and inputting data from pre-tests, post tests, Fall evaluations, and Spring evaluations. I analyzed this data to create a PowerPoint presentation for our donors that highlights the students favorite aspects of OFA. I created a Shutterfly album to celebrate the 2013-2014 OFA program and show off our students' and teaching artists' hard work.

Preparations for the 2014-2015 program are coming along nicely! The Education Department has been excited to create this year's program around the theme Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tail. Linden, Jess, and I visited the Field Museum to gather facts and construct the lesson plans to accompany the field trip to the Field Museum this Fall. I have also worked on writing the lesson plan and editing the script for Alice In Wonderland. Student Journal assembly will be in full swing soon and the Education Department is ready for the new year!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Places...and...Action!

Emma Bonanno, COT Teaching Artist Intern

It’s been a whirlwind semester with Opera for All! Over the past several months the students have been putting together all the pieces of their operas – the songs, the dances, the fight choreography, the props, the costumes, the staging – and finally we have arrived at performance time. During this week and next week, students at all six of our schools had or will have their final performances of Jazz on Fire, and boy, are they excited!

It’s always incredible to see how far these shows come and how fantastic the finished projects are. Many of the students begin our program never having sung, danced, or acted. Most of them have never seen an opera, and maybe don’t even know what an opera is. And here they are, a mere nine months later, performing in their very own opera that they have created! It is such a great feeling to see these students take charge of their work the day of the performance and really knock one out of the park.

The rehearsal process in the weeks approaching a performance is many times tedious and stressful, even for professional adult performers. There were times over the past few weeks when morale was low, students and teachers alike were worried and stressed, and it was hard to keep focused. However, when the students were finally able to get the show in front of an audience, everything came together!

For many of these kids, this was the first show they have ever been a part of - the first time they’ve ever felt the thrill of getting up in front an audience and putting on a performance that they, their teachers, their parents, and all of us here at COT can be proud of. These performances are the point at which they finally see how far they’ve come and take ownership of their work, just like true professionals.

Also like professionals, the students learn through their final performances that the show must go on. Everyone, even the most famous actors and singers, has made a mistake on stage at one point or another – and often these mistakes happen much more frequently than we imagine! None of the Jazz on Fire shows came out with every little tiny piece exactly as it was written on the page and rehearsed, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And judging by the smiles, excitement, and laughter following the performances, I think the students would agree with me!

And...CURTAIN!

All Jazzed up from ‘Jazz on Fire’

Bryna Berezowska, COT Teaching Artist

We finished the epic year long endeavor to make learning and creating an opera super fun. This process give students the unique experience of not only performing a show, but actually creating every single little bit of it all by themselves! The students not only wrote their own awesomely detailed character bios, scripts, song lyrics, melodies, but they also designed their own props, sets, and learned some pretty tricky dance moves and cool slow motion fight choreography. The students put all the elements together for an excellent final performance! 
 
 
 


Dominic, a student at Courtenay, was just thrilled and shocked that his drawing made it onto the final T-shirt design. All he could say was ‘wow’! It is quite an honor to be chosen, because all the students at every school will be wearing the shirts for the final performance! All of the hard work and effort that each student puts into creating a show of this magnitude really pays off when they get on that stage and see it all come together. The teachers and audience get into the show, and you can see the confidence it gives the kids.   
 


 
The final performances were great successes at both Sabin and Courtenay! Both schools really pulled it together, sang beautifully, dances full out, acted amazingly, and really gave there all in the final show! It was an excellent year all around!
 
Final Performance at Courtenay

Final Performance at Sabin
 

Opera for All at Chase Elementary School

Jennifer D'Agostino, COT Teaching Artist  
 
 We have been having so much fun this semester during our second year of "Opera For All" at Chase Elementary! My team and I are working with the 5th and 6th grade classes of Ms. Quick, Ms. Martinez, and Mr. Borges. We are very excited to premier our performance of "OPERA ON FIRE" Tuesday, May 27th @ 2pm.
 
Since I usually lead the classes, it's often hard for me to step back and document all of the fun learning moments. Some really great guest visits gave me a chance to use my iPhone and take videos and pictures!
 
Combat Workshop, led by COT Marketing Manager Whitney Hershberger and her combat partner Mark Penzien, was a session that got our students REALLY excited! It was great to see the kids listening carefully, following directions, and executing real stage combat moves! My favorite part was when one student, Diego, had to pair up with his teacher Mr. Borges! After a well delivered fake punch to his teacher's gut, Diego exclaimed: "This is the best day of my life!" Enjoy a video and some pictures of the day's final product!
 
video

 
 
Every year, we are impressed with the skills of artist Sonja Henderson. This year was no exception! We are so excited to show off our well-painted Chicago Skyline backdrop, our detailed costumes, and especially our Takis!
 
 
Dance day is always received with enthusiasm! This year, choreographer Caryn Ott taught each class a unique dance that utilizes a jazz song. Thank goodness kids are awesome dancers... we only had TWO DAYS to put it all together!
 
 
 
A lot of people may wonder: "How do we compose these fantastic songs with our students?" It's a process that we have really grown to love! After the students write the lyrics our composer comes in to help them develop a melody. Our composer this semester was Justin Callis. You can read more about the experience from his perspective on his OFA blog post.
 
 
 
The Chase kids are so great. They are ready for their performance and we still have 3 weeks left! I have been overwhelmed by the positive support from the teachers, staff, and students, who all get to benefit from having "Opera For All."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Teaching Stage Combat to Elementary Students!!

Mark Penzien, Fight Master and Stage Combat Guest Artist for Opera for All
 
When my friend, Whitney Hershberger, contacted me about helping her teach stage combat as part of the COT Opera For All program, I was excited to be involved.  When I was told it would be 13 classes of middle-school students, and we’d have only an hour with each class, I panicked a little.  After all, even though stage combat is fake fighting, it is a dance of sorts that is highly choreographed to deliver a good story, and an exciting spectacle, but mostly to ensure safety of the combatants.  The professionals have been training for years or decades.  How could we teach them enough to be interesting, but keep them safe?
 
Trained stage combatants don’t generally go “all out” with a lot of speed.  If they did, the audience is going to miss most of what happens.  That lack of full speed is also for safety.  What if we went to the other extreme and taught the kids slow motion fights?
 
So Whitney and I went about choreographing a simple fight that included slaps, punches, pushes, and hair pulls.  (It’s amazing how much fun it is to get into a brawl with a friend when you know neither is going to get hurt!)  Along the way, we discovered how to make the fight interesting:
 
If it can’t be flashy or fast, make it BIIIIIG!!
 
I’m not talking a fight with 6 or 7 people at once.  No, I mean wear the biggest, meanest-looking fighting faces.  Choreograph large movements that ordinarily would look clownish.  And encourage vocalizations that are fierce, loud and drawn out.  With the fight slowed down, the audience gets to take in all of the minutiae that usually get mixed together in typical stage combat.
 
When we got into the classrooms, there was a lot of excitement to be learning (and being allowed) to fight.  Naturally, it was a constant struggle to make sure everyone remained in slow motion and that safety was being respected.  Whitney and I even made sure that safety wasn’t just the first rule of stage combat, but the first three!  “Safety for myself, safety for my partner and safety for those around me.”  Once we had that ingrained, it was a lot of fun for teachers and students alike!
 
Seeing the students take to the choreography and make it their own was quite rewarding!  Once the movements were familiar, the warrior faces that were donned were impressive.  A beastly face that normally would be comedic took on very serious tones because of the vocality and slowed-down energy of the fights.  I truly worry about the Great Chicago Fire that these students will be fighting in their operas!