Monday, October 31, 2011

Beginning to play at Reilly

Amanda Grimm, COT Teaching Artist at Reilly Elementary

Although we got off to a late start this year, things are already taking off at Reilly in our violin classes! The last two weeks have been both fun and educational and because these students are so smart, we're moving along at a rapid pace. We've already covered the parts of the violin and bow and have talked about how we make sound. Last week, everyone was assigned an instrument and we practiced holding our violins in rest position. This is a crucial first step - rest position is the safest way in which to hold our violins when we are not playing.

Because teaching twenty-eight kids how to play the violin simultaneously can prove to be a bit of a challenge, I'm really lucky to have the help and support of Linden and two of the Reilly teachers. As we progress with the fundamentals of violin playing, we'll also be doing some listening to standard repertoire (last week, in the spirit of Halloween, we listened to some "scary" music by Shostakovich and Stravinsky). Also on the docket is an introduction to rhythm through different variations on the song "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

I'm very excited for my violin classes at Reilly this year. I hope the kids are excited too! Learning the violin can improve coordination, discipline, and listening and hearing skills. It will also provide exposure to a whole world of music with which the students may not already be familiar. And we'll definitely be having fun along the way!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Planting the seeds of a possible future

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist at Clinton & Hampton Elementary Schools

Last week, our Clinton students went on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. This year's opera will be based on themes of adventure and discovery, and we thought a field trip would be a relevant and inspiring experience for them! The day was delightful, of course, filled with "fake tornadoes" (what they called the tornado simulator), hatching chicks, a maze of mirrors, an actual U-boat submarine, a traveling circus, wind tunnels and rainbow rooms and static electricity spheres and other WOW-inspiring exhibits too numerous to name. In follow-up with the kids the next week, we worked with them to process their experiences and to choose themes for songs that would based on those experiences, as well as imagined events that could have happened in the museum.

I could not keep up with the flow of ideas that ensued once the kids understood the "what if" directive. What if the submarine floated out to sea with only kids on it? What if the artful cadavers came to life, a la Night of the Living Dead? (Night of the Living Bodies was the title that student suggested, and which stuck, a nice nod to the classic horror flick.) What if the images of ourselves taken by the museum photographer came to life and tried to take our place in our own lives? What imaginations! Real-life scenarios that will be turned into songs for their opera include getting "lost" and reuniting with the group in the eating area; a song with the working title "Lost Until Lunch", and being disoriented in the museum's "mirror maze".

I'm so enjoying working with the kids to translate their everyday experiences into the end result of an opera, rather than imposing already-extant material on them. It is highly effective, in terms of getting them invested in the project, and also a very direct introduction to the creative process from start to finish. And kids are just so creative, when given the opportunity.

I was struck by the comments of two adults affiliated with Clinton; one, a field trip chaperone, and one, an office staffperson with whom I chatted this week before the field trip follow up class. During the field trip, I attached myself to a particular Clinton group and followed them as they progressed through the musem, taking pictures and asking the kids what they thought about this and that. I stepped in to help the chaperone as he encouraged the kids to enter a wind capsule a few at a time, rather than packing themselves in like soon-to-be-disheveled sardines. We watched the kids scream and laugh and pound on the plastic walls as they were buffeted by high winds.

With a smile on his face, the chaperone suddenly said that these trips were important because the kids, as they were exposed to all these different technologies and sciences and disciplines, might decide that they wanted to be astronauts, or scientists, etc.. when they grew up, and that they would then "participate in their communities". Screaming and silliness and static electricity balls aside, he perceived the trip as planting the potential seeds of their futures. Yes, indeed. How sad that, at one of our schools, due to probationary status, the kids must take a "virtual field trip" on which to base their opera. They can't have life-expanding experiences like field trips because they might not pass a benchmark if any test prep time is lost. There is something wrong with that picture. Sometimes, though, we can't see our immediate realities, our current snapshots, or the fruits they may eventually bear, lost as we are in benchmarks or funding issues or, simply, our own awareness.

My other moment was shared with a Clinton secretary in her sixties or seventies who was monitoring the sign-in table the week after the trip. She had seen last year's opera and asked what we were doing this year, and she shared her own memories of touring the famous Prado museum in Spain as a child. Picassos, Monets, all of that meant nothing to her at that age, she said; she had no context for it as a middle-schooler, the same age as this year's students. She recalled other students' parents, she guessed, telling them to emphasize those masters in their homework essays after her trip, and also remembered her parents scolding her for relating seemingly commonplace elements of her experience in her own essay. In her child's eye, she said, she remembered going up and down the stairs, over and over, more than anything else. She put that in her essay, and her teacher gave her an A, she said, because she did the assignment: she related her experience. But, she said; now, so many years later, she can marvel at the masterpieces she saw then, and appreciate them and the impact that visit had on her. Seeds were planted.

We never know whether the seeds we plant in the course of this program will end up in maturity. All we see are the initial sprouts of creativity and excitement; at the end of the year, an opera, a blossom produced during such a small part of the life cycle of our students. But I hope, indeed, believe, that our kids will have experiences that will expand their sense of the possible and, as our chaperone put it, inspire ideas for new life directions, even if, at the time, it seems like a lot of "going up and down."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just beginning at Gallery 37

Christopher Richard, COT for Teens Teaching Artist

The first couple weeks of COT for Teens have gone even better than expected! We are one of the few programs that have a full class roster in ASM.

The students we have are overall of a higher caliber than we've had before and it shows in the level of work we are able to do. We have been working on The Bell Chorus from I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. So that they have a more immediate connection to the text, we have chosen to sing The Bell Chorus in English. They seem to like it but it's a little tricky. We need to do some more musical work on it before we can start to get it on it's feet. We've also tackled the opening chorus from Luisa Miller by Verdi. This one we decided to keep the Italian to stretch them a bit. The language hasn't been that difficult for most and it helps that everyone sings together all the time. Part of the class has been spent building the ensemble as a team doing some name games, theater games and sharing of experiences thus far in the class.

Both Marta and I are really encouraged by everyone's attitude and commit to the program to make it a most successful term!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Imagination and Experience

Kimberly Chin, COT Teaching Artist at Clinton & Hampton Elementary Schools

This is our second week at Clinton and first week (2 classes) at Hampton. They are still so excited for us to be there. I believe they are having so much fun and they will gain so much experience and learning opportunities by the end of this year. We have one class at Clinton and one class at Hampton that are experienced in this program. To think of things that will be more challenging for them, yet easy enough for the newer students in the class, may be challenging. We do not want them to get bored mid-year.

In the newer classes, it is surprising to see how shy and how little they know how to use their imagination and creativity. On Wednesday, I did a lesson on exactly that, imagination, still along the lines of our theme, adventure. We did a game where we pick up an object and imagine it as something else, then explain how we would use it to help us on an adventure. For example, I would pick up a pen, then say this is a wand that I will use to protect myself against the evil wizard on my adventure. Many students would pick up a pen and say, this is a pen. The second part would sometimes be imaginative: This is a pen that I can write something down and it would appear. On a brighter note, the more experienced classes, for the most part, did use quite a bit of imagination in this activity. One student picked up a broken part of a balloon and said, "This is a cap that if you put it on, you will become hairy from head to toe and can disguise yourself as an animal."

This Friday, Clinton will be going to the Museum of Science and Industry. I've asked them to not only log the "cool" things they saw that would be good for their opera but think of "what if" scenarios as well; "what if the tornado broke loose?" Hampton will be going on their field trip on November 4th.

I think this will be a great year filled with many fun and imaginative adventures!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Day at Clinton

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist at Clinton & Hampton Elementary Schools

This week's sessions were a great start to what I expect will be a wonderful year for myself and teaching artist partner Kim Chin at Clinton School. We're working with three classes this year, 3rd - 5th graders, and two of our teachers and one of our classes are returning to the program. It will be really exciting to see how our repeat students contribute to the curriculum, being experienced composers and performers! Many of these children offered detailed definitions of "Opera" and all were excited to see us again! Having teachers that have experienced and obviously enjoyed OFA (Opera for All) will also be a wonderful positive variable in this year's experience!

We started the classes with an introductory names song sung to the tune "Skip to My Lou". This is an opportunity to learn names, as well as to get the students singing right away and understanding that Opera Class is different from their other classes! The kids responded enthusiastically and happily, without shyness. Next, we passed an inflatable beach ball with questions such as "What do you dream about?" and "Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world?" Students had to catch the ball, introduce themselves, and then toss it to the next student once they answered the question. This exercise got them standing and out of their desks, and also gave them a taste of cooperation and self-control similiar to that needed onstage as they tossed the ball to each other. Answering the questions helped us to learn a little about them and begin establishing a rapport; something that teachers in previous years have stressed as an important factor in classroom atmosphere and participation.

Next week, we'll meet our students at Hampton; a new school for me, as Clinton was this week for Kim! Can't wait!