Saturday, November 26, 2011

Commemorating Maggie Daley

Christopher Richard, COT for Teens Teaching Artist

This was our second to last rehearsal before our final performance, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. All of the students were fattened and lethargic from the feast just 2 days before. We had a lot of work to get done, last minute tweaking of scenes, catching up some students who might have missed something along the way and all the little details that make a scene come alive.

Unfortunately, we also learned about the passing of ASM’s beloved Maggie Daley. She was the heart of ASM and an inspiration to all. We were asked to participate in the public wake that was going to happen the very next day at the Cultural Center. We polled the kids to see how many might be available and if it was feasible to have our group represented. COT for Teens was one of Mrs. Daley’s favorite programs, but it was still an honor to be represented. It seemed after polling that we would have at least a handful of students and a decent combination of voices.

We arrived at Gallery at 10am Sunday morning. We were told of the possible schedule for the day and finally went across the street to mourn and celebrate the wonderful life of Mrs. Daley. We were one of 3 groups from ASM that provided music for the family and the masses of people streaming in to extend their condolences. The groups rotated throughout the afternoon and we sang 3 times. We sang the lovely chorus ‘Ti desta Luisa’ from Verdi’s ‘Luisa Miller’ -- after all, Mrs. Daley loved opera! We also sang our choral version of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific.’

As we were singing I couldn’t help but notice how appropriate and comforting those choices were. The Daley family and the staff of ASM were so thrilled with how the afternoon went. We finally left about 3pm. It was a long day, yet the students remained composed and professional throughout. We were proud of them and humbled to be part of such an event.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Songwriting at Clinton with Adam Busch

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

Today we completed songs in all three classes with the help of visiting artist Adam Busch, a fantastic and fun composer and lyricist! Mr. Coor's class, which was just decreased by half to about 15 kids, completed their song "Lost until Lunch" about a tornado going wild in the museum! Mrs. Lee's class, which had opera last year as well, finished their song, "Alone on a Submarine", but did not work any further on "Night of the Living Bodies" with Adam. And Mr. Lee's class spent a lot of time finishing "Devil Twins".

This activity involves rhyming, constructing a narrative, writing sentences that have the same cadence(# of syllables). All three classes helped to create gestures, or choreography, for their songs, and we practiced it several times in preparation for the Winter preview. All classes were asked to memorize their lyrics. I also told them to practice their choreography, and to draw a picture of the theme of their song (a tornado, a submarine, a zombie, a devil twin) for potential use as a t-shirt design.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Performance of Talents

Amanda Compton, COT Teaching Artist at Reilly Elementary

During the past few weeks, the students at Reilly have done mostly group-based performing and singing exercises. But this week we decided to give them the chance to show us what they consider to be their own individual "talent." About 20 kids had the courage to take the stage in front of their peers and share their passion.

We had a very diverse showing of talents including singing, rapping, piano, dancing, and poetry. Taylor Swift was a popular performance choice, and was well received by the audience (they usually sang along with those performances!). One of the most impressive performances was a reading by one little girl of her own original poem. After she read it, the class voted to use it as the lyrics for one of the songs in the spring opera. This particular girl has been quite shy and quiet the past few weeks, and I can't begin to imagine how proud she must be to have her classmates affirm her talent so strongly.

A few kids weren't sure what they wanted to perform, but they were so eager to take the stage that they volunteered even when they didn't know what they wanted to do! Their desire to express and be a part of the fun was clear. Hopefully during the course of this class, we can enable them to embrace performing not as something that is scary, but rather as an opportunity to share with a receptive audience something that gives them joy.

The talent show was an excellent way for us to identify the students that already have some performing skills, and a great way for those students who are new to performing to get some inspiration from their peers. We had a very good turnout of parents who came to support their child's interest with video cameras and applause, and we even had them participate in an acting game the children have been practicing at the end of class. In a school with little funding for the arts, it was clear that Opera for All serves as the crucial outlet these children need to gain confidence in themselves and foster their creative instincts.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Looking Outside the Box at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Kimberly Chin, COT Teaching Artist at Clinton & Hampton Elementary Schools
Laura Koroski, Education Intern at Chicago Opera Theater

Last Friday, Ms. Ochoa's class from Hampton Elementary visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. Before the trip, we were hesitant about how it would turn out. What kind of inspiration could students get from modern art? How would they turn that into an opera?

But our fears turned out unfounded. We had two docents for the field trip, and they were fantastic guides, helping the students to see beyond the physically bizarre creations in front of them. By complete coincidence, they just happened to have the same ideas in mind as we did. Their ultimate aim seemed to be to get the kids thinking about space, but there were a number of steps to get there. The guide had our group stop to look at a piece that the museum had just received, a miniature village model which to us looked like a Vegas hotel strip. “What is this?” she asked the students. “A model of a town.” “Could you go inside it?” They agreed you could. “What would you be, inside it?” “I would be rich and famous,” one student stated, and everyone laughed. “What would you be famous for?” the guide asked. “I dunno, I’d just be famous. And everyone would want my autograph.” The guide tried to draw them back to the model. “Think about it, though. How would you go inside that village? Would you shrink yourself?” A hand was raised. “Maybe you’d make the village bigger,” one girl said. “Or maybe you could imagine yourself in the village?”

To further explore the concept of space, our group made a circle. “It’s not just artwork that can change a space,” said our guide. “People can change space as well, and we do it all the time. How are we, right now in this circle, changing the space? How would we change the space if we made a smaller circle? A line?” These were simple exercises, yet when paired with deep questions, produced some amazing discussion.

The docent led the students in our group from simple observations to more nuanced answers to complex, open-ended questions. At a piece composed of stacked mirrors in a corner, they talked about the placement of the light in the creation of the piece, and how it resembled a stairway, perhaps to the heavens. What looked like a doorway led to a discussion of how simple and everyday a door is, until the docent asked “What could make this door special? Where does it lead?” and the kids were off using their imaginations, thinking of the new and fantastical rooms and places and worlds it could lead to.

After a tour of just of few of the hundreds of pieces the museum has, the students were given the opportunity to deal with space themselves – by creating their own piece of contemporary art. They were given a starting template of a three-dimensional cardboard corner, lots of materials, and told just to go. At first, they were hesitant, asking questions about what they could do. But as time went on, they opened up, and it was wonderful to walk around the room and watch them figure out that they could do whatever they wanted.

Some people say that today’s students don’t know how to think creatively and use their imaginations. Perhaps that’s true. But I think that using your imagination is a skill like any other, and it has to be taught, or at the very least, introduced. And it was wonderful to be present at the MCA and watch the Hampton fourth graders start to learn how to think outside the box. I hope some wonderful things will come out of it for their opera.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Masterclass with Nathan Gunn

Marta Johnson, COT for Teens Teaching Artist

On Thursday October 27th Nathan and Julie Gunn visited our COT for Teens classroom. We were privileged to hear stories about traveling and singing internationally from Mr. and Mrs. Gunn. Our students were inspired to learn about the real world of opera and life on stage.

To start the visit, our students sang Ti Desta Luisa from Luisa Miller by Verdi. Mr. and Mrs. Gunn loved their singing and were especially impressed with the Italian diction. Most of our students have never sung in a foreign language before, so this encouragement was welcomed by all parties.

Our students had the chance to ask questions of Mr. Gunn and they had some good ones:
What inspired you to sing opera? (Hearing the Magic Flute as a child.) How much do you practice each day? (About four hours!) Do you have any special tips for good breathing? (It’s like blinking your eyelids: if you think about it too much, it gets complicated.)

Both Mr. and Mrs. Gunn emphasized that having a beautiful voice is a gift, one to be respected and treated well. And this means practicing and being diligent in your preparation. One of our students was so inspired by these remarks that he told me he was going home and memorizing all of the Bell Chorus from Pagliacci, which we are currently learning. And indeed the next rehearsal he sang most of it from memory!

A native of South Bend, Indiana, Nathan Gunn has built a reputation of being one of the most exciting and in-demand baritones of the day. He has appeared in internationally renowned opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Paris Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Bilboa, and the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. In addition to his many roles, Mr. Gunn is a distinguished concert performer and a frequent interpreter of new works. His solo album, Just Before Sunrise, was released with Sony/BMG Masterworks, and he can also be heard on many operatic recordings. He is also a tenured professor of voice at the University of Illinois. Audiences can see Mr. Gunn in the role of Ravenal in Show Boat at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in February and March, 2012.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Mixed-Up, Turned Around Opera

Linden Christ, COT Teaching Artist at Reilly Elementary

Chicago Opera Play House performed a wonderful musical called Cinderhood at Hampton and Dewitt Clinton Elementary School on Oct 24th & 26th. This touring children's opera company was founded in 2005 by Linden Christ, who is the Manager of Education and Outreach for Chicago Opera Theater. COT teaching artists taught 8 measures to the Opera For All students to sing during the performance, "It's a mixed-up, turned around, jumbled, inside-out story; a jumbled, inside-out, mixed-up, turned around tale." The students loved performing their bit for their peers at the In-School performance. COT's teaching artist, Adam Busch, who wrote the musical and toured it around New York, was also the accompanist for our school performances.

COT teaching artist Kimberly Chin played multiple roles as Little Red Riding Hood, Wicked-Step Mother, and Fairy Godmother. And COT teaching artist Linden Christ played the roles of Cinderella, the Queen, and Little Red's Mother. The students were inspired seeing their opera teaching artists perform for them.

After the performance, Chicago Opera Play House held a Question and Answer session in which many of the students were curious about Adam's role of creating the mixed-up story about Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Some older students wanted to know whatever happened in the end to the wolf and the wicked-step mother.

Reilly Elementary School will have their In-School performance of Cinderhood on Friday, December 2nd at Noon. Learn more about Chicago Opera Play House and the musical Cinderhood here.