Friday, July 24, 2015

Solorio Teens Update!

Emma Cox, Stage Director of Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at Solorio

    As of Monday, July 20th we have officially finished blocking and learning the entire show of Once On This Island, choreography and all!! That puts us at least two weeks ahead of schedule!! This is fabulous news, because it means the teens will have more time in the next few weeks to rehearse lines, spot-check dances and really start developing their characters. Mr Chungers and I are especially pleased at the vocal progress that the teens are all showing--there is some gorgeous singing going on at Solorio!
     We have also started adding in some props and costume pieces, just to get used to wielding them onstage. Overall, the effects are staggering--the song 'Rain'  in particular really came together once we added some of the handkerchief 'raindrops'. In other songs, we decided that less physical effects were needed. In the song "Mama Will Provide", we use the teens themselves to physically 'build' a tableau of everything that Mother Nature is providing for Ti Moune on her journey. My personal favorite song of the show is the finale, "We Tell the Story"--you can just feel the joy radiating off the stage from the teens as they sing and dance! 

        Next week looks to be very busy for us all. We have to continue to work on our production, of course, but we also will be featuring our first performance for an audience outside of Solorio! We also have two guest speakers coming in, Ms Linden Christ and Ms Colleen Jackson, to talk to us about some of the challenges and rewards of running your own theater company, what it is like producing and directing shows, and holding mock auditions and masterclasses with the teens. It's going to be an exciting and informative couple of days!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer with our COT for Teens!

Directors: Emma Cox & Chungers Kim 
Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at Solorio 

        This week has been FLYING by, but everyone has been working incredibly hard. As a result, we are ahead of schedule! We are currently almost two days ahead of where we thought we would be--mostly because of the BRILLIANT people we have in the cast! Today we choreographed "Rain", which is a big dance number in the show. Mr Chungers and I cannot WAIT to see it with all of the props and such on stage! It's going to be fantastic.

        The teens also created professional and personal resumes today. A major part of our final project will be a creative-space board that will feature the teens' head shots and resumes. We are focusing our summer efforts on creating young professional actors/singers who will have a wide range of 'tools' in their creative 'tool belts'. We encouraged the teens to explore other artists on Broadway, in the operatic world and within the jazz circuit to gather real-life examples of how professionals portray themselves. I was truly impressed with the wide array of studies, after-school activities, hobbies and interests that this group displayed. What a marvelous, brilliant and enthusiastic cast we have! They truly have nothing but bright futures ahead of them all!

    July 10th was our first field trip of the summer, and it was especially successful! The teens got a chance to visit the Grant Park Summer Music Festival's rehearsal of "A Sondheim Celebration" concert! For many of them, it was their first experience at a professional musical rehearsal of any kind. There were many curious questions asked--one of which was, "Ms Emma, are we going to perform HERE??" (Answer: 'We WISH!') The weather was perfect, the orchestra was amazing and the singers were pure perfection! The entire day was delightful, and it proved to be a marvelous learning experience. 

    BUT WAIT! It got even better! After the rehearsal, we had the distinct pleasure and privilege to meet one of the artists! Ms Elizabeth Stanley, a well-respected and current actress on Broadway, was gracious enough to offer us advice, insight and ideas about working in the musical world today. The teens had previously explored her website, listened to her recordings and explored her resume, so they had plenty of questions to ask Ms. Stanley about working in "the business". Ms. Stanley had started out as an opera singer before expanding to crossover work in musical theater, and her observations were invaluable. We just couldn't have asked for a better day overall!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

FABULOUS performances at Reilly!

Megan Besley, Opera for All Teaching Artist




Our year at Reilly came to a close on June 5th with the culmination of an entire school year's work into one FABULOUS performance! Our amazing partner teachers, Mr. Costilla, Ms. Neamt and Ms. Drakulich played an integral part in getting these kids prepared for their performances, drilling them on lines and encouraging them to rehearse their blocking. The day of the show we encountered technical difficulties with the sound system (we were down to 1 or 2 mics) and, amazingly, the kids just rolled with it- THE SHOW MUST GO ON! We were very proud of how they didn't allow this to deter them in their efforts. The shows went SO well, and parents and families seemed engaged and excited to see the kids perform. Many kids were teary in hugging us goodbye after the show, and told us how much they would miss us and this program. What a great opportunity for everyone involved to bring creativity and music and joy to others! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

My Favorite Thing about Opera for All

Erin Moll, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist 



My favorite thing about the OFA program was watching how much the kids improved over the course of the last several months.  The students’ boost in confidence, and the way they worked together as a team and helped each other to make the shows the best they could be – these all made a huge impression on me.  One of the girls who had a big part got sick the week of the show and another classmate stepped in memorized at the last minute – talk about team work!  Each of my students showed an incredible amount of responsibility and really stepped up to accomplish something they had never done before.  The end result was something phenomenal and left each kid beaming from ear to ear!  I’m so proud of my students!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Matt's Last Look at Field and Armstrong

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

It's hard to put into words the feelings that move through you when you see the culmination of a year of work with very talented students! But I shall try....pride, joy, elation, worry (that everyone would remember their lines), relief, happiness and hope were all things running through my mind during the final performances at Field and Armstrong schools. 



To be able to share my passion for the performing arts with kids who need this exposure is such a rewarding experience. So much credit must be given to the Chicago Opera Theater teaching artists team and the partner classroom teachers. If you think of the logistics of getting masses of elementary school kids to find an interest in opera, compose a song, learn a dance, write a script, memorize it, and then create a polished performance, you might say, "That's Impossible!" But, I can proudly say that we have all pulled off the impossible, and I couldn't be more pleased! 

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I have to say that my favorite part of the year was when Nathan, a 1st grader from Mrs. Kelly's class, ran up to me and told me he composed a song for me! He then proceeded to sing it. It was only about 10 seconds long, but the passion and effort he put into it made my day! I knew then that I had found a new home in arts education with Opera for All! Thanks Nathan! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Great Work Chase Elementary!!!

Sara Litchfield, Opera for All Teaching Artist



This past year with OFA, I was lucky enough to spend with the talented students of Chase Elementary. I worked with two 4th grade & two 5th grade classes every week & watched each class create their own unique dinosaur themed opera that could not have been more different from one another's.  We had everything from rival carnivore & herbivore lollipop vendors, dinosaurs battling with halitosis to a prehistoric game of Rock, Paper, Scissors that resulted in a meteor shower!  Some of our songs were happy & thanked the characters in our story who emerged as the heroes while other classes wrote anxiety driven melodies that dealt with taking wounded dinosaurs to the hospital or running from an exploding volcano.  We even included some rapping as well as an MC Hammer inspired dance break!  Throughout the creation process, our students were allowed to express themselves in different ways than they are not often allowed within a school setting & through each of the different art forms that exist within an opera (music, drama, dance, creative writing & visual arts).  Our partner teachers were so cooperative and encouraging from the beginning.  A few of them even stayed late the evening before our performance to decorate the entire gym in our dinosaur motif!  Though I try not to pick favorites, there was one 5th grade student with autism that stole my heart & was always so excited to participate in opera class.  He not only volunteered to be the first speaker during our winter assembly but also played one of the leads in his classes' performance.  He served as a perfect representation of the enthusiasm that I continually see when children are exposed to opera. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Fantastic Year at Armstrong Elementary School!

Jennifer D'Agostino, Opera for All Teaching Artist



What a great year in the CPS schools with OFA. Our students were very enthusiastic about all aspects of building and presenting an opera. It is so overwhelming, and sometimes emotional, when you walk in to a school and are greeted with an abundance of energy, hugs, and questions about today’s class in Opera. I am constantly surprised by my students’ reactions on participating in an art form that they initially think is so foreign. As we continue our plans, they start to realize how accessible it is to write, read, and act. There is always a time when what they do on stage becomes second nature, and it’s really exciting to see the evolution throughout the 20 or 35 weeks. I have been especially impressed with the 1st graders at Armstrong. Not only are they adorable, but, their enthusiasm was by far, the best I have ever seen working for Opera For All. Students who barely spoke at the beginning of the year were shouting the Dinosaur song at the top of their lungs at their performance. They all had that glimmer of mischief when they acted out their plots and sang the silly and fun songs they created with composer, Adam Busch. It’s great to work with a grade where the students aren’t yet feeling self-conscious because they will really do about anything. I will definitely miss those little tikes, and judging by the answers on their post test, I know that they will always have a special place for Opera.  


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What I Have Learned as an “Opera for All” Assistant Teaching Artist

Heather Keith, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

Last year when I was interning for Chicago Opera Theater, I learned a great deal about the Opera for All program and how to work with other teaching artists as a team. I helped get the production on its feet, but I wasn’t with the students long enough to really get to  know them.


This year, being given the opportunity to bond with the students I teach, I was surprised daily with not only their talent, but also their sheer tenacity. When any one of these students is given the tools to succeed, that is just what he or she does! Not only do they have the challenges of everyday life, being in school, testing, growing up…but also, when given the right direction, they create stories and music compositions that are not only imaginative but really speak to an audience.


This year, we wrote stories that deal with fair sportsmanship, mothers down on their luck, and dinosaurs coming back from the future. We wrote songs that not only are tuneful, but also integrate into the plots of all our stories. We learned dances together that showed us to be comfortable in our own skin, and that dance can enrich the story we are trying to tell. We learned together how to create opera. 

I am so incredibly proud of these students. I am so lucky to be able to work with them to teach them about the things I am passionate about and, in turn, they teach and remind me daily what amazing things can be accomplished just by hard work and being given the opportunity to learn.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Casting Day!

Justin Callis, Opera for All Teaching Artist



Assigning parts for our show is always such a challenge.  Our students come in excited and prepared, and everyone wants a part!  Fortunately, it is always an ensemble experience, and everyone who wants a role gets one.  From a busy team of narrators, to a Cyborg Dinosaur, to a pre-teen zombie, there’s something for everyone at Field Elementary School!  We even found a featured role as a magical plant!  

For me, so much of the process of choosing parts is about what the students bring with them to their audition.  Because it is an original piece of theatre, and everything is a work in progress, the characters and script are entirely shaped by our students.  New lines are always a welcome addition.  Essential character traits might appear out of a rehearsal.  It is always so exciting to see what our students bring to the table, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint.  

During the audition, each student read from the same scene from their show.  That way, we got to hear everyone say the same words.  Plus, the students all watched the auditions, and were able to learn from and be inspired by their peers.  We also discussed with them how their attitudes and dedication in class play a big part in the casting process.  Roles can become larger or smaller depending on the circumstances.  One student, who initially had a small part, so impressed us during review sessions and the dance day that he received a lead role in the show!  

We’ve watched auditions, and through it, we’ve watched our students learn and grow.  Now comes the difficult days of staging rehearsals, where I hope to have just as much fun with our students creating the visual language of our show as we did writing the words and melodies they will perform.  I can’t wait to see A Terrific Tale!


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dance Day!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist



Joy. That is the word that comes to mind as I think about our dance days at Field Elementary and Armstrong Elementary schools. There was joy on the student’s faces as they felt so proud of their hard work, and joy on the teacher’s faces as we watched even some of the very shy students come out of their shells.

Dance requires patience, focus and a desire to have fun. All of these elements came together magically as we unleashed our inner Katy Perry in “Roar,” and clapped to the infectious rhythms of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” As someone who tends to trip over my own feet, I found myself goofily jumping around and enjoying myself as much as the students. Even some of the teachers demonstrated their mad dancing skills, and the students couldn’t get enough of it.

I continue to be thoroughly impressed by the student’s adaptability as we throw new elements of performance at them. Singing, acting and now dancing are all coming together, and the student created operas are taking shape and coming to joyous life before our very eyes. I could not be more proud of our students and the amazing work being done in CPS classrooms as we share our love of opera and performance art with the next generation.


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)!


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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.