Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Summer in Chicago

Anissa Corser, COT Summer Intern

Back in February 2013, I spent much of my free time calling and sending materials to opera education departments across the US.  Location didn’t matter.  The problem was no one answered their phone, well, until I called Linden. In her sing-songy voice, she agreed to accept my materials and schedule an interview. By March I confirmed the internship as well as won a grant, the Bucknell Public Interest Program Fund, to help fund my endeavor.

Immediately after I finished my Junior year at Bucknell University, I hoped on a plane to Chicago and moved into my Craigslist apartment.  The following day, work started with a bang as Linden pulled me through the city, stopping to see the Chicago Children’s Choir final showcase at Millennium Park and then traveling to the many schools to see the students’ final performances. Hampton’s opera, “Super Nova Saga,” may be my favorite. Highlights include Prince Blueberry’s earnest dedication, the adorable Beard Nuggets (whose costumes consisted of very hairy beards strapped onto top hats), the comedic Cynthia the Creature Seeker, the profundity of the Sacred Garden, and the students’ uncontainable excitement while singing “Blasting Off!” I will even admit that if prompted I could sing any of the students’ other original songs. I remember comforting one crying Beard Nugget whose beard had separated from his top hat and assuring several other students that they would indeed have time to color their custom T-Shirts after the show. I loved greeting the parents and school administration and helping them understand why Opera For All is so important.

After the crazy first couple weeks of May, work settled down as Jess and I began to plow through evaluations. Although the evaluations potentially got a little monotonous, I could depend on at least a couple of whimsical, hilarious, sassy, or deeply reflective and adorable student responses to cheer me up. Here are some of my favorites:

Question: What is the most important thing you have learned this year?
Answers: “That everything comes from the heart,” “To Let your singing talent shine,” “To respect,” “How to work with others,” “How to be creative and confident,” “How to express my feelings,” “I learned that you have to practice very hard to be good,” “OPERA can be FUN.”

Those being the heart-wrenching answers that attest to OFA’s impact on each individual, let me relate some of the more hilarious answers.
We asked all of the students to make up their own short story that could be set to music and turned into an opera. Here are some winners:

§ Queen Beyonce says, “massage my back! and you do it! If not then you will DIE!”
§ A girl was in the bushes hiding and a Pit Bull came, it was black and he ate her, and her parents came and they were sad. The end.
§ There once was three little Moles. The Moles never got along. Once they were fighting and they didn’t use a warning bell.
§ There was a bad man who stole a kid and he said sing a song in a Soprano voice and I’ll give you back

Oh children’s imaginations….. sigh

My other summer duties included updating assessment tools, participating in a phone conference with Opera America on incorporating the Common Core Standards into outreach programs, summarizing the assessment data from the 500+ evaluations, and creating lesson plans for the two operas the OFA students will see next year: Hansel and Gretel and Queenie Pie. In staff meetings, I got an inside look into how an opera company functions, and I attended stimulating design presentations regarding COT’s upcoming Joan of Arc.  Another summer highlight, potentially my favorite part of the summer, was attending the Arts Alliance Illinois state convention One State Together in the Arts. Formatted in a TED Talk style, I got a chance to hear inspiring artist-innovators attest to the many ways the arts can stimulate and uplift community. 

Anissa, Jess, and Linden at the CISC Navigate Summer Institute
My internship has truly been a wonderful experience, and I am truly grateful to Linden, Jess, and the rest of COT for making my experience so positive and substantial.

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