Monday, October 17, 2016

Choosing Our Story

Heather Keith, Opera For All Teaching Artist

This week in Opera for all we were very busy writing the plots of our operas. The students were incredibly excited to be able to use what they learned at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and apply it to writing their stories.

I have an exciting cast of characters in all my classes so, needless to say, their stories are shaping up to be pretty fantastic.

Hanson student strikes a pose on the nature walk. 

One of my favorite stories so far comes from one of my classes at Reilly. During our class, the students were having a difficult time finding inspiration. They wanted to tell a story that used facts, but nothing seemed original enough to really excite the students.  Finally, one student suggested we write a story about bees, which ignited a conversation about how the planet is seeing less and fewer bees every summer. We talked about having our opera be about conservation, which the students liked, but it also seemed too much like the plot of another class at Reilly.  Finally, I asked them to give me all the crazy ideas they had, that we would keep scientific facts in the development of the characters, but that we could adapt our opera to anything we liked.  Once the floor gates of creativity were open we were overwhelmed with possibilities. I could see the excitement in the room starting to rise.  A student suggested that the reason the bees were disappearing in our story might be that they drank an invisibility potion.  Then, we concentrated that on just the queen bee because the students decided it might be confusing if all the main characters on stage were invisible.  Finally when it came to finding a resolution; to the students, only one solution seemed clear.  Dumbledore the bee would come and save the day.

I love this story because it shows that sometimes the best inspiration happens when you let go of the expected.  When the students were able to let go of the idea that there was a “right” way to answer the store, the writing process became easy and incredibly rewarding. I also think it’s important for my students to go through the creative block process. As a singer, I know how hard it is to deal with creative roadblocks and how sometimes they lead me to want to throw in the towel.  But through my life, I have learned when I am facing a road block that the best thing to do is look at it from a different angle and to get a fresh perspective.  That is what I hope to teach my students through this process. To not give up when things get hard, but to take a step back and look at the problem with fresh eyes.  When you do this you often times end up with amazing results -- even Dumbledore in bee form.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day At the Museum

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Spiders and turtles and butterflies, oh my!

As the students entered the Peggy Notebaert Museum on Tuesday morning, the looks of wonder on their faces reminded me of the first time Dorothy gazed upon the Land of Oz! As soon as backpacks, lunches and coats were set in the correct bins, we took a journey down the yellow brick road of science and discovery.

The students got to splash and play while learning about clean water and ways to prevent flooding. They got to see many fascinating specimens of taxidermy, live animals, creepy creatures and real skeletons, including a real human skeleton! They got to see how food decomposes, and they got to stand under a UV light and see what germs may be lurking in their bathrooms. I found that exhibit much scarier than the skeleton!

Most exciting, the students got to enter the butterfly house and spend an afternoon in the company of some of the most spectacular looking butterflies I have ever seen. They flew around freely, and some lucky students had them land on their heads, shoes, shoulders and arms. I had one land on my thumb, just to say hello! One lucky student and I got to see a butterfly emerge from its’ cocoon. It was a new experience for both of us, and as we stared at this miracle of nature, awestruck by what we were seeing, I felt that childlike sense of joy and discovery that we as adults all too easily forget.

The purpose of this awesome field trip was to gather information and ideas for our classroom opera scripts. Our theme this year is “Growing Together: An Organic Love Story.” Script creation is my favorite part of the Opera for All process, and I anticipate some ridiculously imaginative ideas. I’ve already had one student tell me that she wants to play Mother Nature! Brilliant!