Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opera and Theatre games - Round 2

Richard Blakeney, COT Teaching Artist

Hampton Elementary School

This year at Hampton is moving quite fast as we prepare for our Winter Showcase, December 13th at 2pm.  The students voices can be heard rehearsing The Boy and the Wolf and Se Vuol Ballare every Thursday morning.  They are ready to impress their parents and friends with their stage presence and teamwork, not to mention their Italian.  We have also been rehearsing for their Knightly News performance that was on November 19th.  It was a huge hit with the students at Hampton.  I would not be lying if I said that the Young Artists' Voices rang through the halls of Hampton Elementary during their visit.  They received applause and cheer from teacher and student alike.  We lost a week to Turkey Day, so now we have to work extra hard to get ready for the 13th.  Here is one game we have been playing to enhance student engagement and reinforce positive behavior.  It can also be used for classroom management and creative expression.  Call and Response, with clapping and voice cues are used every day in Hampton's opera class.

Duration: 10 minutes
Before class, select a list of key phrases or sentences from the designated text. Virtually any lines can work, though the best choices are lines that carry an emotional or aesthetic punch and that are essential to an understanding of the text.
The class gathers in a large circle. Everyone in the room needs to be able to make eye contact with one another. Ask the students to pull their shoulders back, take their hands out of their pockets, and avoid crossing their arms during the vocal warm-up. This will help them to open their voices, to speak with conviction and clarity. Next, walk into the center of the space and call out lines of text. The students repeat the lines back in chorus. Read with emotion, matching the tone of the text and encouraging students to match the energy and quality of the reading.
You might then playfully point to individual students and challenge them to match your level of energy. The warm-up continues with many lines moving back and forth between you, individual students, and the entire group.

Reflection: Based on the lines you heard in the Call and Response, what predictions can you make about the text?  What was your favorite line of today’s Call and Response?

Cameron Elementary School

This year at Cameron, the students' and parents' participation has started off more like a Blast of Activities for All instead of Opera for all.  As Amanda said, their program just started in the beinning of November and since then they have had performances of Knightly News and the Chicago Opera Theater Young Artists.  The audiences for these two performances were comprised of parents and students alike.  Even with all of that activity, the students have been excited to start acting, singing, and writing their own opera!  We have a visit with the lyricist, Alyssa, on December 7th and we are preparing by brainstorming and writing about potential characters, settings, and plotlines.  We have asked the students to create Space-themed writings, the theme of this year's Opera for All.  Here are three games we will be playing as we create text for our Space Opera.  Check out for more classroom games.

Duration: 45-90 minutes

Divide students in the class into four or five groups. Ask each group to answer one of the questions from the character’s perspective, in first person. Certain qualities help monologues to be effective including: use active words, ask questions, speak in the first person, and have a beginning, middle, and end. Give students about twenty minutes in class to develop the monologues. Ask students at the end of class to share their drafts.

Continue to work on and revise monologues. When the monologues are ready, adapt the scenes from the text (see adapting the text activity), and insert the monologues into various points in the scene. The final performance will then be a combination of scenes from the actual text combined with student-generated monologues.

What are the qualities of an effective monologue? What are the best ways to combine the monologues with adapted scenes? What do you learn about the characters by creating the monologues? What do you need to know about a character in order to create a monologue true to that character?

Duration: 20 minutes

Jan’s students each took a piece of paper and pen and sat in a chair or on the floor in a place where they were comfortable. She explained, “There is not a right way or a wrong way to write. This is your life. These are your stories, your words. Write as fast as you can. Don't take your pen off the paper.”
Jan then gave students a series of prompts for which they were to write quick lists, allowing a brief time for each topic. The students began writing. After about thirty seconds she instructed, “Stop. Draw a line across your paper. Don’t worry if you didn’t finish. This is about generating quick ideas. Next topic.” She had her students brainstorm in rapid succession the following topics:
• Foods you love to eat
• Images or things in your neighborhood
• Things you did when you were a child, toys you played with, memories, places you went
• Music you like to listen to, music that rocks your mind, settles your soul, music you listen to escape, lyrics from songs that come to you
• Things you love, things you love to do, your grandmother, your best friend, climbing on mountains, taking a vacation, anything that comes to mind.
When students finished, Jan explained, “This will be your cheat sheet, the notes you will use. I will give you a poetry prompt. Begin with the words ‘I come from.’ Use that phrase as often as you like and fill in with words from your lists. Play with it. Add to what you’ve written. Change it. It just helps to have something to begin with. You have 10 minutes to create a poem.”
Students worked silently on their poems using the rough ideas from their rapid brainstorming page. After about ten minutes, Jan instructed the students, “Pick up your paper with the poem on it; get up on your feet; walk around the room; just walk. Now read your poem out loud. Don't worry about anyone around you. Just start reading.” Students walked and read their poem aloud.
After a brief time, Jan stopped them and explained, “The next time you walk, I want you to edit the poem down to a size you would be brave enough to share in the room. Choose the parts you want to keep, and those you want to throw out. This is what I call editing on your feet. Take your pen with you. Add something new if you like.” Her students walked again, reading their poems and editing as they walked.
Jan instructed, “Find a partner. Introduce yourselves. You’re just going to read a little bit of your poem. Choose person A and B. A will read to B. B, please be the most respectful listener on the planet. Make eye contact, I won’t let you read for longer than a few seconds. Go.” Students read until Jan said, “Switch so that B is reading to A.” 
Jan then brought the class together in a circle. “First repeat after me ‘I' [everyone said ‘I’ in chorus], ‘Come,’ [chorus], ‘From,’ [chorus], ‘I Come From,’ [chorus]. Now we’ll go around the circle and you will share your edited poem with the rest of the class. Read as much of your poem as you are comfortable sharing. For you, maybe that’s just one line or one verse, or maybe it’s the whole poem. Share any part you want.”
That summer in Jan’s class, students read the novel Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. After the students read their own poems, and before they began reading the novel, Jan gave an inspiring speech that captured the essence of why we read and why we write:
These are very personal poems. We're doing this as artists, as poets. This is how poets begin writing poems. They begin at the very beginning, by just using basic language, introducing themselves, telling a little bit about their story. And when we get into the Bless Me, Ultima, you’ll hear another person telling a story; and it's a lot more words, and that's the only difference.
Jan’s process of rapid brainstorming breaks down inhibitions and encourages innovation. We’ve used this process in a variety of classrooms when beginning different types of writing from narrative to poetic.

Duration: 20-30 minutes

Prior to this exercise, the participants had been exploring the concept of childhood spaces. Robert asked them to think of places that were important to them as children. In pairs, they shared their stories.
Robert then handed everyone a standard size sheet of paper. He demonstrated, folding the paper in half, then in half again to form four equal parts.
Robert explained, “In the first quadrant write the name of the place from one of the stories you told earlier. When I say go, start drawing circles around that word until another word comes to mind. Then quickly write that word and begin drawing circles around the new word until you think of another. Fill the first quadrant up with words and circles. Don’t take your pencil off the page. If you can’t think of another word, then keep making circles. You have about three minutes. Go!” 
In the second quadrant, Robert asked everyone to write an important question someone else might ask about the story, “something that is missing from the story as you previously told it. A very important detail or perhaps some background knowledge that you didn’t explain the first time around.”
In the third quadrant, Robert asked the participants to focus on the senses. He instructed, “There are five basic senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Write a word for each of those five senses that relates to your story so you will know the story you are telling by just those five words. A sight. A sound. A taste. A texture. A smell.”
In the fourth quadrant, he asked everyone to write a headline that captured the essence of the story.
Robert then instructed, “Using all this rough material, take out a fresh sheet of paper and begin to write your story.”
Over the years we have added variations to the four quadrants, depending on when and how we have used this tool in the writing process. We have asked students to do the following:
  • List the key objects in your story
  • Write a mini-dialogue between two characters
  • Sketch the setting of your story
  • Describe the setting
  • Describe one of the major characters in your story
  • Describe one of the minor characters in your story
  • List the major symbols in your story

A setback is just a setup for future success: Beginnings at Cameron

Amanda Compton, COT Teaching Artist

After much turmoil surrounding the teachers' strike and other various scheduling issues, we were finally able to bring our program to Cameron Elementary two weeks ago.  With a lucky twist of fate, we now have the students for an hour and forty minutes instead of just the normal hour, which will allow us to incorporate our lyricist, Alyssa Sorresso, this fall semester.  I have already had the privilege of working with Alyssa at Reilly Elementary to create lyrics reflecting everything from a heartfelt decision regarding divorced parents to a wacky language from outer space, and I am very excited to see what new ground we can explore at Cameron.

Cameron students with Teaching Artist, Richard

It is already clear that we have some seriously creative minds at Cameron.  Two of the children are veteran musicians of a local choir, two are percussionists in band, and a few others have shown us their enthusiasm for acting games.  But it is also clear that the group has some challenges to overcome.   We have one student that only speaks Spanish and needs our instructions translated during class.  We also have a few different age groups that are in different phases of their educational journey.  Therefore, my partner teacher, Richard Blakeney, and I decided it was most important to give the group a good foundation for working together and becoming a successful ensemble for their future production.  We made our expectations clear, and asked them what kind of behavior they thought would contribute to the production in a constructive way.  Together, we made this list of important elements:

Be respectful
Raise your hand to speak
Be courageous and participate during every session
Trust each other and work together to be creative 
Show responsibility by being prepared and doing what's asked of you
Be courteous and don't say bad words
Pay attention
Be honest

Once we all felt safe to express ourselves, the rest of the day was fun filled and energetic!  We began with an acting game that required the students to walk from their seat in the auditorium up to a lone folding chair.  The trick was to be a character other than yourself, and to show that character in your physicality alone.  The kids were already learning to take risks and add specificity to their motions when their character was not clear the first time.  Doctor Who was an especially and surprisingly popular source of inspiration...perfectly apropos of our outer space theme this year!

For the rest of class we honed in on rhythm.  I played some different excerpts of music, ranging from Black Eyed Peas, to Mozart, to Gershwin, and asked the kids to find the beat.  Most of the kids clapped to show the beat.  So I asked them to find the beat a different way, with a different part of their body.  Then silently.  Then "faster" or "slower" to get them attuned to different subdivisions of the beat.  They started to listen more actively, and became attuned to what their peers were doing with the directions until they were in sync with one another.  We delved even further into rhythm by learning the pulse of a quarter note, eighth note, triplet, and sixteenth note.  We related each note to a common, everyday object:

quarter note=phone
Eighth note=apple

Once they got the hang of those pulses and different permutations of the order, we learned how musicians notate those rhythms, and created some original rhythms.  We then did solo and ensemble performances of the musical bars.  It was very inspiring to see the shyest children give it a try in front of their peers, and even better, to succeed.  I think we have a good balance of leaders and hard workers in this class, and I am looking forward to see where this unique and gifted group of children takes their show.  Be courageous, Cameron!  I will be there rooting for you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chicago Opera Theater Young Artists Sing and Share

Jessica Lane, COT Education Assistant

It's as simple as the title sounds.  3 musicians from our Young Artists program (pianist and 2 singers) come with us for a day to each of the Opera for All schools and share what it is like to be them!  They sing arias and some selections from musicals for the students, connect it to what they are learning in the classroom, and talk about how they became opera singers.

In the past week I was able to see Matthan Black, Megan Williams, Catherine Spitzer, and Sarah Jenks (pianist) work with the students at Reilly Elementary, Chase Elementary, and Cameron Elementary.  There are two more days and three more schools to go and I cant attend, but I know the students will love their Sing and Shares as well.  (Loren Battieste is also performing for the students, but I couldn't make it to see him.:( )
Matthan makes Catherine, Sarah, and Cameron Elementary School laugh.

As far as I can remember, in childhood, I believed that whatever you became, you started working towards that goal in high school, or even middle school, or maybe even elementary school.  Now, I know that is not true, but as a kid, that is the perception of career that I held onto.  The students in our Opera for All program think the same thing about opera singers sometimes.  They believe that you are almost pre-destined to become an opera singer, and that it is not something they can attain.  Through the Sing and Share we were able to address some of the myths our students had about opera singers and how you become one.

Megan, for example, started as a ballet dancer and fell in love with opera when she danced in one.  Matthan started as a guitarist and rock and roll singer.  Sarah wanted to be a doctor!  Once the students heard how the path to becoming a singer was a choice that anyone could make, we started getting questions about how they could do it too.

Megan, Matthan, and Sarah talk to students at Chase Elementary School.

After the class at Chase Elementary School we had a group of about 5 girls asking what they could do now to become singers in the future.  It is so exciting to see them interested in opera, a type of music many of them didn't know anything about until this fall! 

I also want to take this chance to give a huge bravo (bravi tutti?) to our Teaching Artists.  In every school I was able to visit the students were prepared, knew what was going on, and were engaged in the performance the entire time.  All of the students are already familiar with opera and most of them are comfortable talking about it.  I am incredibly amazed at what they have accomplished over the last 12 (ish) weeks and cannot wait to see the final performance at the end of the year.  Our Teaching Artists travel all over Chicago, to places not that easy to reach by bus or train, every week to work with these students and teachers.  You guys are doing an incredible job and I am so thankful to work with you and learn from you.

We are finished with our fall semester on December 14th, but between now and then the students practiced singing and acting, created a storyline and written the lyrics to their opera, attended the Adler Planetarium, the Magic Flute, the Young Artist Sing and Share, Chicago Opera Playhouse's Knightly News, and performed for their parents in the Winter Showcase.  The first semester has been packed, but the students are soaking it all in and are already gearing up for their opera in June!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Violin classes at Reilly

Amanda Grimm, Violin Teacher
Violin classes at Reilly have gotten off to a great start!  These first weeks we practiced rhythms, sang melodies, and learned about the different parts of the violin.  We also made cardboard violins out of cereal boxes and decorated them to look like real instruments! 
Over the next few weeks, we will learn how to hold our "practice violins" as well as the bow. All of the students have been doing very well and I am excited for the months ahead!

The students' favorite part thus far has definitely been decorating their violins but a few have expressed excitement over learning to hold the instrument and practicing.  In order to learn to hold the bow properly, we have met our "bunny friends."  Our bunny friends are the shapes we make with our right hand in order to approach the bow hold.  We have also gotten to the point where a lot of the students can hold their instruments with no hands! This is a critical step as we move forward to prepare for the use of wood instruments.

We have practiced two different rhythms, the 'Mississippi-Stop-Stop' rhythm and the 'Strawberry-Blueberry' rhythm.  We are also learning the song "This is My Violin."