Friday, September 21, 2012

Young Artists sing at New Trier High School

Jessica Lane, COT Education Intern

Hello blog readers, I first want to introduce myself.  My name is Jessica and I am the Fall Education Intern here at COT.  I have been here for about a month and am loving it!  How lucky I am to not only work with the Opera for All program and COT for Teens, but I also get to tag along with the Young Artists.

Yesterday we went to New Trier High School's Freshman Campus to work with their choirs.  Many of them had never been to an opera, and were far from calling themselves opera fans. Their director, Tim Estberg, wants to change that.  He invited the Young Artists to perform (a slightly shortened, 1 act, version of) The Magic Flute for his choirs and the choir and Young Artists sang the finale together!  The Freshman Choir only had a couple weeks to prepare, but they sounded amazing.  If they sound this great at the beginning of the school year, I cannot wait to hear their concert in the Spring. 

The students loved the performance and the Young Artists are so talented, the entire group watched in silence.  When Papageno was looking for Papagena at the end there were some Freshman students who wanted to volunteer to be his Papagena if the real one didn't show up!  They were just so funny, and really enjoying themselves.

The Queen of the Night tries to win Tamino over.
Sarastro comforts Pamina after his guard threatens her.
After the finale, students were given a chance to ask the Young Artists questions.  Instead of the silly questions I was expecting, the students really wanted to know what it was like to be an Opera singer.  I could tell some of them were considering it for their future.  Having a great choir director like Tim is a step in the right direction!

COT Young Artists answer the student's questions.

Being in a school and seeing how students view the experiences COT offers them reminds me of why music and arts education is so important.  All of the students are going to see The Magic Flute at the Harris Theater on Sunday with their teachers and families and I can remember what it was like for me to be at the opera for the first time.  They will see the stars of COT's Magic Flute as well as the Young Artists they met Thursday on stage.  For some of them, like it was for me, it could be the moment they decide to be an opera singer.  How exciting!


PS: You still have two more performances left to see COT's Magic Flute, so don't miss out on this really awesome re-imagining!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week 2 at Saint Vincent de Paul and Opening Day at Marillac!

Justin Callis, COT Teaching Artist

This week was our first day with our new students at Marillac!  It was really wonderful to see how excited our students were to be in the classroom, and just how energetic they were.  They really amazed us with their operatic singing and their enthusiasm.  We got right to work teaching them our opera gestures for the Magic Flute and getting them pumped for the performance!  It was so much fun taking them to see the opera the next day.  The bus ride was a bundle of energy and excitement, and the kids really enjoyed the field trip.  They ate lunch in Millennium Park, were interviewed for a video about Opera for All, and then sat down to the first act of the Magic Flute.  It was amazing how much they remembered about the opera from what we had taught them the day before, and it was truly rewarding to know they were paying that much attention to what we had said.  The kids were amazed.  So many of them had never seen an opera before, and watching them discover that it was fun and accessible was a real joy.  I can't wait to see them again on Tuesday!

Week 2 at Saint Vincent DePaul Center was a lot of fun.  We spent the first half of class playing games, and getting the kids excited to be there.  Even after such a long day at SVDP, the kids still had so much energy, they were doing handstands every time I looked away!  The games we played, Zip Zap Zop and Boppety-Boppety-Bop highlighted teamwork and focus, and I think the students got a lot out of it while still having lots of fun.

Justin teaching Boppety-Boppety-Bop

Then, we talked about Mozart.  Only a few of the students had heard of him, and they were all astounded that someone who lived so long ago was still so important to the world of music today.  We also taught them the opera gestures all of the other students were learning, and they found the story exciting and interesting.  And they were only a little disappointed when they discovered that the story was all made up!  I can't wait to get back in the classroom with them to continue our work on tableaus!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A New Adventure at St. Vincent DePaul Center!

Bryna Berezowska, COT Teaching Artist

A group of students filed onto the stage in the St. Vincent DePaul Center not knowing what to expect from their first day in this “Opera Class”. Bryna and Justin, the Chicago Opera Theater teaching artists, enthusiastically sang their introductions to the somewhat startled kids. They were met by a few giggles, applause, and a lot of wide eyed wonder that these regular looking people were opera singers. They played a name game that incorporated rhythm with clapping. The students sang their name to the beat followed by something that started with the same letter as their name. Bonus points were given to anyone who could think of something relating to music, dance or acting!
A brief video of the performances from last year’s student groups was played for the kids and you could see the excitement building on their young faces. Over the next year they will get to create their very own show!  

 Through the games and exercises played during the class, it was revealed that there were many budding dancers, actors, artists and singers in the mix. For example they played one ‘question’ game that allowed students to raise their hands and demonstrate skills in a fun way. Some of the questions were as follows. “Who has been in choir? Who has taken a dance class or loves to dance? Who can make the best funny face? Who can beat-box?” The students enjoyed participating in the game and the teachers learned a great deal about the students and their backgrounds! The students also enjoyed acting out the first act of Mozart’s Magic Flute with props and costumes! At the end of class they brainstormed some brief ideas for the final show! You could tell they couldn’t wait to get started on their new adventure in this class!

Here is a picture of the Teaching Artists Justin and Bryna, joined by their partner teachers Carl and Dominique! They are having a great time playing with the props used in the first class! 


Friday, September 7, 2012

New Challenges at Hampton!

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist 

We've had two sessions thus far at Hampton with Ms. Paz, Ms. Ochoa, and Mr. McFarland, and so far, the year is off to a magical start! We have two classes of lovely and lovely youngsters, and our oldest group is chatty but creative and very musically talented. Although Richard is new to this school, and the kids can be tough, he has already captured their trust, fascination, and respect with his amazing teaching approach. I have a video in which the kids cannot help but dance for joy and excitement as he sings with them, but yet are behaving and in total control of themselves. Sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't!

I am learning so much from the way Richard models and communicates expectations through theatre games, rather than lecturing about them (which NEVER works, anyway; but how else can one establish the rules? This way!). Richard also reminded ME, through his example, that students are fascinated when we perform what we are trying to teach them, rather than talking about it!

We know, though we forget, that a gesture, a sound, a facial expression, are worth a thousand words. This is the basis of theatrical performance, of course. And, everyone has heard about those teachers who can get a room of students on their side and in their seats with a LOOK. Try to explain that process mechanically (this is what you do with your body, your energy, etc. etc, blah blah) and you'll lose a group of elementary school kids. Communicate that to the students both through modeling of standards and by showing them with your own performance how exciting gesture and sound can be, and all of a sudden, you have a roomful of enthusiastic, impressed, inspired young actor-singers!

We used this concept in two ways. I taught two of our classes Se vuol ballare, a song they will be presenting at the Winter Preview in a few months, in just one class period, in this way. First, I explained the situation between Figaro and his boss the Count that precipitates the aria in age-appropriate terms. I had the students, many of who speak Spanish, find the Spanish cognates, such as ballare/baile and signor/senor. Then I performed it for them, in character as the Count, with all the menace and disrespect I could muster! They were instantly hooked and wanted to sing it with me because they were fascinated by the dramatic tension of the situation--Figaro is furious!--that I did my best to model in gesture, vocal inflection, and facial expression. Just teaching it to them by rote would have been boring and a chore. But they were, I think, fascinated by the angst in the situation. And I think they liked being entertained while they learned.

Richard had introduced the gesture/sound concept to them the first day by giving them five or six gestures and sounds to associate with characters in the Magic Flute; such as a pantomime of a flute for Tamino, or an outstretched hand and the famous theme (from Die Holle Rache) of the Queen of the Night. They will attend a dress rehearsal of the COT production of Mozart's , Die Zauberflote, The Magic Flute, next week (and base their own opera upon the themes of adventure and exploration evoked by COT's intergalactic setting of the work). This week, we reviewed those gestures, then had the kids act out other scenes in the opera as we gave them a synopsis of the plot. They were eager to act in the second class; which is quite unusual; and their choices were often quite clear and appropriate. This gets us off to a great start. They will no doubt be super excited after they see the show!

As we attempted to assess their takeways from the second day, we realized that themes of family communication (dysfunctional in the opera!) and tests were present in the work. We hope that the kids will understand that challenges in life, though they test your character, prepare us to tackle the next stage in our growth. Their comments on Pamina and Tamino's troubles included : "What kind of dad kidnaps his own daughter?" (Indeed). and "Maybe they had to take all those tests to prove they were worthy of each other." It will be fun to hear, after the opera, how they interpret what they see and hear; and also to take those observations and interpret them in their own story of challenge and discovery! We plan to ask them, again: Tell us, in a sentence or two, what the Magic Flute is about? What is the MORAL of the story? We'll see what they have to say!