Friday, December 17, 2010

Back with the violin class at Reilly

Julie Davis, Education Intern at Chicago Opera Theater & Violinist, substituting for Iris Wei

Last Thursday, December 2nd, was my third visit with the violin group class at Reilly, but the first time as the only teacher present in the room. I was excited to see how the students' had matured and what new skills they learned.

Seeing that they had just began to learn music notation, I put 8 measures of music on the board, using letter names instead of a full staff. The song went something like this: A A | A A | D D | D D | A A | A A | D D | D D | . As they also wrote this in their own notebooks, I explained the concepts of measure, bar lines, and 'the beat.' Then we sang this song several times, first all together, than the girls sang A and boys D, etc. We then assigned dance motions to each letter, as A was hands in the air and D was touching the floor. I like this exercise because young students can really feel the beat and hear the difference between high and low. Then we discussed how we could play this piece on the violin, as the violin has both A and D strings.

Then, I introduced a small composition exercise. I erased all the notes and left the bar lines. Reviewing the strings of the violin, I asked students to raise their hands and give suggest notes (E, A, D, G) to fill the 8 measure song. Then we sang the song (although our pitches were not accurate) with specific body motions for each letter. I introduced the concept of composition, and told them that they had all been composers that day. This new vocab word was recorded in their journals.

After this exercise, we unpacked the violins, and reviewed correct playing position. Next we played the song Ants, a simple song of just open strings. I asked students to write in their notebooks how this song would be written using bar lines and letter names. We then drew this together on the board and played it once more. To conclude the lesson, I rewrote the first song we worked/sang and we practiced playing this with our violins. Some students really got the concept of pizzing different strings for different notes, but I think others had a hard time physically understanding how plucking the strings to the left are lower in pitch.

My biggest surprise upon returning the the classes was the difference between the first group (3rd graders) and the second (I believe 4th grade?). The first group was really into the singing/dancing activity. They were laughing and suggesting goofy dance moves. The second class however was more reluctant to try the activity. They were also more inclined to goof off. I made a rule that if someone's back turned away from me, they lost their violins and had to sit quietly. I was very firm, calling individuals out and asking them why they would misbehave the one day a week they had to learn violin. I think because this class was after school, and they had they day off the next day, that they were naturally a little more rowdy.

Also, I realized how hard and time consuming it is to tune all those violins! If I sub again, I think I'd try to tune the violins before the class begins to save time.

I had a lot of fun at Reilly because the kids are naturally eager to learn and excited to play!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Practice What You Teach: Teaching Artists Perform with Opera For All Students

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist

COT recently sponsored a series of in-school performances by Chicago Opera Play House of a children's opera, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. COT Education Manager Linden Christ, who runs Chicago Opera Play House, was Goldilocks, and I, Lisa Golda was Mama Bear. Baby Bear was played by Matthew Newlin, COT’s Young Artist Singer, Papa Bear by Justin Adair, and COT’s education pianist, Marta Johnson accompanied. Composed by Jonthan Stinson, the opera addresses themes of homelessness, family intimacy and love, trespassing, and forgiveness through this familiar fairy tale. The music itself is sophisticated yet engaging and accessible; a treat for singers and audiences alike!

We presented the opera at schools where we teach: Reilly, Clinton, Calmeca, and Hampton. Students (4th-5th graders) at all four schools had been taught the finale chorus and sang with us at the close of the show. Other students from the schools were present just to enjoy the opera.

The children were SO excited to see the performance and to participate with their grown-up counterparts! We heard a lot of positive feedback the next day during regular classes. At one school, Reilly, the entire audience (about five hundred children) got involved to tell us that Goldilocks was NOT on the stage in the bed where the Bears were searching for her, but in the auditorium! They all pointed and yelled "She's gone, she's gone! She's over here!" They were quite involved in the story. It was one of the most rewarding and delightful performing experiences I have ever had. And I would venture to say that the children present will remember that magical, musical day for a long time to come.

I think that it is vital for our students to enjoy exposure to art of all kinds. But it is especially important for them to see an opera, given our program; and to see one early in the year, so that they have a concrete idea of what they are working towards. Our students have spent this semester writing their own lyrics for songs with Mary Scruggs of Second City. Next semester, music and staging will be added and the children will present their very own opera! But last year we heard from some of our partner CPS teachers that many children had never even been in a choir concert, much less a staged performance, and that the end-of-the-year rehearsal process took them by surprise.

This year, our students were able to actively experience the art form that they themselves will be presenting in the spring; both as audience members and as performers themselves. The Goldilocks and the Three Bears performances were scheduled in the same week as the students' "Winter Preview", a semi-staged performance of their written lyrics.

They now have had a taste of excitement, stage fright, rehearsal, and of the finished product they will eventually present. The students will better understand the lessons of teamwork, delayed gratification, and daily practice that are a practical component of the artistic process. They also, I think, have even more respect for us as their artist-teachers. We can actually practice what we teach!

I think that these in-school performances will make such a big difference in the kids' experiences and ability to meaningfully participate in OFA, both in terms of their understanding of what they are working towards, and in their rapport with and respect for us, their Teaching Artists. Mama Bear has already made an in-class appearance (out of costume) to ask for quiet with a gentle "Rahhhhhhhhhrrrrrr!"