Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reigniting the Stars

Caryn Ott Hillman, COT Teaching Artist - COT for Teens

Hello, my name is Caryn Ott Hillman.  I am the new stage director and choreographer for After School Matters’ COT for Teens at Gallery 37. 

Let’s see…where to begin?  I grew up in Milwaukee, WI where I took dance lessons from ages three to eighteen. 
Me at the tender age of 10, in one of my many dance costumes.

I started voice lessons in high school and was inspired to study music in college.  I moved to Chicago to attend Roosevelt University where I studied voice under Maria Lagios.  

Posing with Maria and my accompanist at my senior recital

Hugging my Candide when I played Cunegunde in CANDIDE at Roosevelt

After graduation, I performed both opera and musical theater throughout Chicagoland.  

My fellow fairies- I am in orange as Cobweb in A Midsummernight’s Dream at Metropolis Center for the Performing Arts

Model face with another gypsy in GYPSY LOVE at Light Opera Works
Ready to dance in THE STUDENT PRINCE
Now, where did the teaching come into play, you ask?  Well, in college, I returned home to Milwaukee to teach musical theater at a summer camp at First Stage Theatre Academy.  Since then, I have joined the team at Light Opera Works to direct and choreograph their winter/summer workshops and I teach at Emerald City Theatre, as well.  My first thought of working at Chicago Opera Theater came from my dear friend - Chris Richard.  We have performed together on stage in KISS ME KATE and have taught together side by side at Light Opera Works.  My first thought was that working teens was going to be much different than working with grade schoolers, but I was thrilled by the idea!  Having students that appreciate classical music or have a love of singing was going to be HUGE!

I am now only two weeks into the process and I have already witnessed the class come alive when they sing the chorus to the Merry Wives of Windsor. I am filled with so many ideas that I want to add to the pieces that Chris and I have selected for this term:
·        Flamenco dance to Dance the Cachucha
·        Embodying demons from Hades instead of woodland creatures for the chorus in Merry Wives of  Windsor
·        Perform on a dark stage with flashlights for the Ballad of Sweeney Todd

That is just a start!

I truly am inspired by these teens that may have more “real life” issues to deal with than the average teen.  I hope I can be a mentor that can create a Safe Zone for them to feel supported so that their self-esteem can flourish.  I am a foster parent to two beautiful girls.  Therefore, I feel I have a small insight as to how to take a “broken” child and help rebuild him/her.  No child is lost forever, he/she just needs to be harbored and nurtured. 
This is me with my husband Kyle and the girls, Kyla and Shauntae.  Their adoption will be finalized later this month!!!

Dim stars can be reignited – I intend to do that for these teens through preforming.                      
They deserve it!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Composing Through Collaboration

Myron Silberstein, Opera for All Guest Composer
          It was a pure delight to participate in Chicago Opera Theater’s Opera for All Program for my first season as composer at two schools: Clinton and Saint Vincent DePaul. I particularly valued the interactive aspect of my work with COT’s elementary students. Composing is a notoriously solitary act; in both schools, though, we enjoyed a genuine collaborative experience in which each student had input into their songs’ rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. My role as a composer was simply to put the students’ ideas together.

           I began each class by asking students to read the text we would be setting. I next facilitated discussion about the text’s emotional content and asked for another reading emphasizing the emotions of the text. We were then able to notice when students’ voices instinctually went up or down, when the speed increased or decreased, and when volume changed. 

Once the broad-strokes structure of our music was on paper, I asked students at Clinton to form small groups to collaborate on creating the rhythm of their song. As Saint Vincent DePaul, the class size was small enough to continue our discussion as a full group. Each group had five to ten minutes to discuss, and then spoke the text in rhythm to the entire class. And then we voted on which rhythm to use. We did the exact same thing when constructing a melody. This is true composition by committee!

I offered occasional coaching: when a group set a text to a repeated interval, I asked whether the repetition produced the tension they had found in the text. We discussed the possibility of using different intervals or of transposing the same interval to different scale degrees and voted for the transposition. I also presented options for the piano accompaniment: should it be bouncy or flowing? Should it stick to a few basic chords or should it have more harmonic variety? But the ultimate decision was in the hands of the students.

And so I left class each day with a notebook full of scribbled transcriptions and jottings about decisions the students had made. I entered the melodies directly into my notation software and then set to work creating an accompaniment that fit the students’ intentions. 

Among the highlights of my work with Opera for All was the students’ reaction to hearing the realization of their melodies. One young singer, who had improvised a very beautiful alien welcome song, was particularly moved: “That’s exactly what I imagined,” she told one of the school’s teaching artists. And she was one of many young composers who are on the verge of bringing their imaginings to reality.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Listening = Art Making at Marillac

Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist
It's been so exciting to get back to our two after-school classes at Marillac and start creating a script and dialogue for their school-themed opera! 
We had been struggling to get the kids' creativity going: our outer space theme seemed too far removed from their own world to resonate with their daily experiences, and they had no interest, or ability, to create a story for characters whose challenges were unrelated to their own. The students came in one day after a particularly hard day at school, and we decided to ask them, as if reporting for a TV news broadcast: Just what is bugging you all? How was your day? Why are you all so grumpy? I thought that if we just found the subject that the kids wanted and needed to discuss, that a creative direction would emerge.
And of course, it did. It's amazing how most if not all art arises from our need to process and share our experiences, good and bad. Answers ranging from salty nachos to teachers assigning READING (horror of horrors, 45 minutes of it!!)  and asking kids to take TicTacs came in torrents from indignant, but giggly, kids delighting in imitating their teachers--- and quickly forgetting their bad moods. We wrote it all down.
Going with the kids' emotional flow, we decided to create a short opera based on the aftermath of a bad day at school and the last day of school before summer vacation. "After School Blues" came out of the initial discussion with our first class, with a trio of "teachers" (reminiscent of the Three Ladies in The Magic Flute) scolding and nagging the kids in their imaginations prior to their entrance. 
Teaching Artist, Justin, and Marillac students working through their new piece
That rhythmic number is followed by a Marillac counselor's advice to the kids to "sing the blues" to feel happier and the original blues song, "Not So Cool After School Blues". Next, the kids discuss how they will spend their summer break, and then perform "In the Summertime," a very evocative rap.  The rap's first stanza was so beautifully written by one of our older participants, Kobe, that we followed the meter and pattern he set when creating additional verses. 

Marillac students working together to create their music.
The students have bought in 100%, with even our most challenging and apathetic (seemingly depressed, exhausted, or both?) kids volunteering to do verses, provide beat box beats, etc.. All but a couple of the students doing rap verses came to their second class memorized and obviously ready to deliver their text--and the couple who were not totally memorized quickly stepped it up and got there. The kids were universally fascinated by the process of writing their own dialogue and became very possessive of "their" lines. And they have already almost learned the melody to their song. Art projects to complete the scene are next on the docket. We've gone from struggling to maintain order in class to rowdy but focused 99% participation. I wouldn't be surprised if we ended up with further songs composed!