Monday, October 22, 2012

Chicago Opera Theater For Teens

Chris Richard
Teaching Artist for Chicago Opera Theater For Teens

We just ended our 3rd week... 3rd WEEK!!!!!  I don't know where it went.  Marta & I have been really excited by the teens who we have in the group this term.  Everyone seems to be really participating and enjoying themselves.  I think for some learning the discipline it takes to sing this kind of music has been a struggle, but I get the sense that they are finding it rewarding!  Just in case you haven't read previous blogs, COT For Teens will put on our production this term rather than the spring.  We wanted to change things up.  We are performing another great Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, 'Trial By Jury.'  Of course it's completely ridiculous and fortunately it's a one act... meaning the whole show is only one act and it takes about 35 minutes to perform.  It's all sung with no dialogue.  Usually in the past we have done cut down version of full length shows.  So we are anxious about how this will all work out!
The first week is usually spent getting to know each other with lots of name games and theater games to get them used to being 'out there.'  They have been jumping in to those thing full on!  In fact, it almost seems like that's all they want to do!  We have been working on the opening chorus, 'Hark! The hour of ten is sounding!,' and we all seem to be having fun with it.  We are also working on two other larger chorus sections. Near the end of the first week and usually into the beginning of the 2nd week Marta & try to get to know our teens voice a little more in depth.  Our process is to have each of them get up in front of class and perform and everyone has to try it.  Some sing something classical, other sing something they learned in school chorus.  Others will sing some pop or R&B tune they know from the radio, we get an occasional music theater tune also.  It's fun and intimidating and the teens are incredibly supportive of each other.
We call it 'Death by Aria'!  It's a term I learned from a young artist stint I did with an opera company.  It just gets everyone over the nerves of singing in front of everyone.  Marta & I use this as a way to cast our show.
Last Saturday, the end of week 2, we took a majority of the teens to see Marta perform!  She has been the music director for Light Opera Works concert called 'Operetta's Greatest Hits.'  It's a stylized concert of lots of great tunes from the operetta world that was staged and arranged for a more intimate setting.  Marta was at the keys and there was a violinist, a bass and another instrumentalist who switched between flute and clarinet.  It made for a really wonderful evening for the students.  The performance was at Nichols Concert Hall is Evanston.  Light Opera Works graciously donated the tickets for us - THANK YOU!!!  On the way to the performance, the teens were singing on the train...mostly pop tunes and songs they know from church.  But then I 'made' them sing 'Hark! The hour of ten is sounding.' It was awesome!  The ending was a little rocky but they got applause from the few people that were in our car.  It was great! Our teens were really blown away with the performance and made several comments about liking certain performers. A couple didn't understand the story line.  I had to explain that there were many tunes from a variety of operetta shows and that this was a concert setting with no real story line.  It's understandable that they asked this because Light Opera Works director staged it in a way that made 'characters' and relationships between them so that the concert wasn't just a stand and sing.  I thought that was clever and it was a good teaching moment with our teens to talk about.

This past week, week 3, was a good week too.  We had really good attendance and the students have been really responsible about communicating with us - which is a huge lesson to learn!
We have announced the casting of our show and everyone seems to be even more excited about it!  We read through the score without the music as if it were a play.  This was done so that we could really delve into the story and talk about specific things that need further explanation.  After all, this is a play - it just happens to have music...the entire way!
Looking forward to the rest of the semester and year with our teens!

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