Monday, April 30, 2012

From Moscow to the South Pacific

Drew Smith, Education Intern at Chicago Opera Theater

These past few weeks have been a flurry of activity for both the Opera for All and COT for Teens programs. As the Opera for All students continue to work on their productions each week, they had a little break from their classes to come out to the Harris Theater for the final dress rehearsal of COT's Moscow, Cheryomushki. You could tell from the moment they got off the bus they were incredibly excited to see the show. Our teaching artists had spent the previous class session going over the plot and characters of the opera so they knew what to expect, but hearing their reactions during the show was a treat! There were "Oohs" and "Aahs"...and some funny "Ewws" (there was a bit of kissing after all in the show). The most magical moment of the opera came in the second half when a ballet was about to start on stage and streamers of blue fabric unfurled from the ceiling and fell to the floor. The kids gasped in amazement and were completely mesmerized by the dancers on stage. Needless to say that part of the opera turned out to be the overwhelming favorite for many of the kids. With a lot of my work with COT being "behind the scenes" it was incredibly rewarding to see first hand the impact that opera is having on our elementary students.

The COT for Teens recently finished up their program with a wonderful shortened version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. They had a busy semester with the Citywide Showcase in the mix, and all their hard work helped them put together a very fun and energetic evening with fantastic singing. Whether it was a solo or ensemble number, the students gave their all and the audience had a blast. They are such a talented group of high schoolers, and it was great to see them have the opportunity to show off their work at the opening nights of Moscow, Cheryomushki and Teseo as well. A small group of students performed a medley of selections from South Pacific in the lobby before each show. It was fun to see the patrons stop and listen, with more than a few of them tapping their feet along to songs that they knew well.

It's hard to believe it has already been four months since I started my internship with COT. It has been an incredible experience so far, and I can't wait to see everything come together over this next month as the Opera for All students work to finish their productions. They have been working hard on music, scripts, sets, props, and to put it all together! Save some time the first week of June to see the performances, you won't want to miss them.

Reilly Elementary, Dancing Maniacs!

Amanda Compton, COT Teaching Artist at Reilly Elementary School

This week has been an incredibly energetic and exciting week at Reilly! We learned dances to "Without you" by David Guetta/feat.Usher, and "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida, with choreography by the lovely and talented Devery McCoy. After many weeks of intense focus on writing our script and composing our songs as a group, having some days that were entirely physical really helped the kids let loose. Their energy skyrocketed every time the music played, and they all really put forth their best effort to learn these challenging moves. We had a great moment where we paused from our dance practice and sat in a circle. Ms. Linden asked the kids how they felt about dancing, whether they like it or not and why, and what their favorite move is from the dances so far. As we went around the circle, almost everyone said they love dancing, and even like to dance at home in their rooms for fun! Even the two girls who said they did not like dancing admitted that they were glad to being trying something new. The most popular move was the "Justin Bieber" move, involving some very complex hand movements with coordinating legs. Come see the show (June 8th) to witness the astounding dexterity and vivaciousness of the Reilly students!

Art at Hampton, Staging at Clinton

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

As always, this part of the year becomes very exciting as we plunge towards the finished product--our fully staged opera, with props co-created with our wonderful visiting teaching artist Sonja Henderson! Sonja often works first on drawings with the children to get them thinking about ideas for sets, costume pieces, and masks, for instance, which she can then incorporate into her work with them, or that the children can use as designs for their work! We worked on a canvas backdrop of the galaxy (stars, planets, comets), space suits based on packing tape molds, and yoga ball planets with the class who wrote a song about space discovery; mask designs for spooky space animals with the children whose song describes museum animals that come to life (who were, incidentally, brought back from outer space in a frozen state, only to thaw upon reaching earth! Of course! What could be more logical?) The other class sketched designs for a chocolate wall and wristbands for their roles as defenders of the chocolate-walled mirror kingdom! They love art class and their creations add so much to the final opera.

At Clinton, my teaching partner Kim, who is sadly soon to leave us, showed me the blocking she had created for the scenes between the kids' songs. I realized--we are in GREAT shape! We reviewed the choreography we had created for their songs. . .much of this was at first very rusty, but started coming back. . .which means that the entire opera is roughly staged. We now must just run transitions between scenes and classes. This is the first time that we are attempting to combine classes in some scenes, instead of confining scenes to one class at a time. . .we'll see if it works!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Amanda Grimm, COT Teaching Artist at Reilly Elementary School

Winter and spring are shaping up to be exciting seasons for the violin classes at Reilly! The students are making rapid progress as we have been reviewing our basic techniques for posture and, most importantly, excellent bow holds. The second grade class is learning the song 'See-Saw,' a nice melody that utilizes the first finger and helps coordinate string crossings between the E and A strings. The after school class is moving very quickly, having already learned two versions of the song 'See the Pretty Flowers.'. This song also uses the first finger and encourages practice of the Mississippi-Stop-Stop rhythm. They are also starting to use their second and third fingers - 'Twinkle, Twinkle' is just around the corner!

I am very proud of my violin students at Reilly. Beginning the violin is a very difficult task and every student has approached it with enthusiasm, hard work, and a great attitude!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Linden Christ, COT's Manager of Education and Outreach

Our very own Chicago Opera Theater for Teens were one of ten selected groups to perform at the Chicago Theater on 28th. They performed a medley of songs from South Pacific including: I'm Gonna Wash the Man Right Outta My Hair, Honey Bun, Some Enchanted Evening, and more. The thirty participating teens from our program come from schools all over Chicago and meet at Gallery 37 downtown to rehearse on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings with our Instructors, Chris Richard & Marta Johnson.

Come and see the Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at the Harris Theater on our opening nights of:

Moscow, Cheryomushki on Saturday, April 14th at 7pm
Teseo on Saturday, April 21st at 7pm.

When Field Trips Attack!!!

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

Clinton is going very well! Unfortunately I wasn't there when they had their composition sessions with our guest composer, Adam, but when I came back and heard the songs the students have written with him, they were amazing! I would have thought that a professional composer wrote those songs himself. They also seemed to be very proud of their work, which is always gratifying to see. The most difficult song was Mr. Lee's "Devil Twins" song. This class really stepped it up when it came to composing a song. They were the most enthusiastic class when writing their lyrics so it's not surprising that they made their song so complicated.

I have only been to one art class that Clinton had with our guest artist, Sonja. I saw some of their finished products and also observed them working on current projects. Some of their finished products could have been displayed in a Museum because they were so good! My favorite was the huge submarine that they made out of cardboard and silver colored tape. I could already imagine how good this artwork will look in the performance. On top of the beautiful artwork, they enjoyed making them. All I heard were ideas and laughter in the auditorium. Sonja really helped make their imagination a reality.

We also started staging recently. All the students were super excited and many wanted to input their suggestions. Sometimes that is a problem because of time, but it was wonderful to hear their ideas and enthusiasm. Of course, we have incorporated as many ideas as possible. Mrs. Lee's class staged their zombie scene and they LOVED staging this. They also can't wait to learn the choreography for Michael Jackson's Thriller. We even have a "music video" section where one student will be rapping while others provide a beat. Even Mr. Coor's class, which has the most special ed. students, were super excited and followed directions well with staging. Trying to focus everyone's attention in this class is rare but they did really well when we staged their section.

I believe the biggest challenge at Clinton will be balancing the staging rehearsal days with the guest teaching artists days. This will include having enough time to rehearse, remembering staging, and memorizing songs, lines, and the dance. With their enthusiasm and hard work, I'm sure that we will have no problem making the performance a success.