Friday, September 19, 2014

Preparing for a whole new classroom.

Jennifer D'Agostino, Teaching Artist

This year, I am preparing to teach 5 classes of 1st grade students at George Armstrong Elementary. This is obviously a little unique since Opera For All is typically geared at 4th to 6th grade. I am very excited to see how the 1st grade students and their teachers will react. I know we are asking them to complete a huge task: to write their own opera in 34 weeks!

A lot of my approach to preparation includes considering the interests and abilities of a typical 1st grader. There are a couple activities in our master schedule that I am thinking about moving to earlier, so our students have plenty of time to master the class dance, their character creation, and learning our class song.

Another aspect of teaching 1st graders that is considered is their attention span. We are changing the classes from our typical 50-minute session to 30-minutes. By allowing shorter bursts of activities that are repeated weekly, I think we will have a lot of fun singing, dancing, and acting every week!

My Assistant Teaching Artist for this semester is Matt McNabb, who is new to COT. I'm excited to get to know him and his strengths! It's great to have both male and female represented in the classroom!
In my lesson planning, I have utilized websites like Pinterest to find craft activities, and researched different ways to integrate Illinois core curriculum standards for writing, reading, team building, science, and language of the arts. This year, our topic is "Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tale," and our students are taking a field trip to the Chicago Field Museum. My main objectives in lesson planning are to create fun activities that keep our students engaged, while working toward an impressive end presentation. I can't wait to see our students costume design pictures of their dinosaur costumes, sing the class dinosaur song, and create a unique storyline!

The School Year is Starting!

Linden Christ, Manager of Education and Outreach

The school bells are ringing!   The Education Team enjoyed a wonderful summer planning and preparing for this 2014-2105 school year.  We are grateful for the help of our outstanding summer intern, Grace McIntosh.  Our Education Assistant, Jessica Weber, had her first baby boy!   His name is Manny and he's our COT mascot!   

COT Staff with Jessica and Manny
For the first time, Chicago Opera Theater had a summer Teen program at Solorio Academy High School.   Our Chicago Opera Theater for Teens performed The Music Man under the direction of Dr. D'Agostino & Mr. Roemer.  The teens sang to a packed audience of family and friends.  

Enjoy this short video of their performance!  

Our Opera for All & COT for Teen programs both begin on September 30th.   The Opera for All program is at six Chicago Public Schools with six lead Teaching Artists and six Assistant Teaching Artists.   The students theme for this year is "Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tale".   The 450 OFA students will be going on a trip to The Field Museum to meet Sue and other dinosaurs which will inspire them to create their own stories that will be turned into their own mini classroom opera!

Keep checking in to our Education Blog weekly to learn more about our programs in our schools!

Our Summer - A Collaborative Blog from the Summer COT 4 Teens Program

Teaching artist, Jennifer D'Agostino asked the students in this summer's COT 4 Teens program to write about their experience.  What they sent her could have been summarized, but is better straight from the students themselves.
It has been an honor joining this program once again. I liked this program because it has helped me open up more, I felt more confident in myself, and I met a lot of amazing people that I would probably not even met if it wasn't for this awesome program. This program has helped me improve by helping me speak up because I was really shy before COT4T came to our high school. My favorite part for the 1st semester was when I learned the choreography for the hot box girls dance for Guys and Dolls. My favorite part for the 2nd semester was when we went to go see Queenie Pie, that was actually my first time seeing a musical and it was amazing. My favorite part for the summer program was when we learned the different songs for The Music Man. I grew as the summer continued by being more open to people and feeling more confident in myself. The advice that I would give to people who are scared/interested in auditioning for a group like COT4T will be that it really gives you a boost of confidence and you would meet a lot of amazing people.  - Valeria Lopez

I've enjoy doing the Summer semester of COT4T @ Solorio H.S. and really feel excited by joining the summer program. This is my third time of being part in the COT4T. When I join the past two programs in Solorio, I learn to improve my skills as I enter into the room and I strengthen my skills with the summer program as well. My favorite parts were the fun games that aim for learning the concepts within the program's main area of interest and the process of learning the materials.I have some reservations on the whole thing be hide performing and others involving with the arts. I grow very fast as the summer continued then I just expanded much wider than myself knowing its after all. My only advice for anyone interested in auditioning for COT4T is to be confident. - Angel Rodriguez

This program helped me improve in my singing by the instructors of the program teaching us how to make our voices louder, nastier( for the pick-a-little ladies), or better. They taught us how to make our mouths larger to make the vowel sound nicer. They also taught us to pronounce the consonant more so the song can be understandable. My favorite part of the program were when we all got to review the group songs and the choreography for the song 76 trombones. Another one of my favorite parts was figuring out the costumes and props, but my most favorite part of the program was painting the sets for the play. As the summer continued, I got more used to working in a big group and having to interact with people I've never seen before. For people who are scared to join groups like COT4T, all I can say is not to be nervous and believe in yourself. I thought I wasn't going to make it in and I was worried that I wouldn't have fun in the program, but I was wrong. I made it in and had lots of fun. So in the end, I met lots of new people, I had fun and we put on a great production. So if want to try out COT4T go ahead and give it a try. -Xochilt Zamorano

I enjoyed the COT4T program very much. I really liked working with the other students in the program. My favorite part of the program was preforming. It was a ton of fun despite the fact that I was SO nervous before went on. It was nice because performing made me feel like all of our hard work really paid off. Something else I enjoyed was singing the the snarly voices for pick-a-little talk-a-little. I also enjoyed creating the sets and playing games with the other participants. As the summer progressed I learned more about singing and acting techniques. It helped me to improve my singing,, as well as my acting. I think that if anyone is interested in this program they should definitely sign up, even if they're nervous about the audition. You should try your best during the interview. Even if your nervous, try your best to seem confident during the interview. - Jaqueline Navarro

What I liked about the program was that it was a good way to come over my stage fright. It helped me improve my group working skills, working well with others, and being a leader. I'm going to have to say painting the sets and painting Robert's face was my favorite part. Pull your self together and get out there... that's all my advice.
-Cynthia Marin   

My first time being in COT i was getting out of my comfort zone because I had no intention on singing on stage and especially singing opera.But during my time in COT I got surrounded by other people that actually stood a chance and I got a bit worried but I stood my ground and actually got the lead part for the part "Sweeney Todd" and I became more confident in my singing by far. During the summer i joined again and it was like but I had more confidence in my singing which helped me in the group parts.Over all it was a very fun and respectful program to join. If you decide to join remember, its about patience the key to be successful in what your are playing as.- Roberto Hernandez

The program was fun, a great thing to do during summer. I learned some skills about professional singing thanks to the program. My favorite part was the final performance. I think I grew this summer by gaining confidence about singing and acting. Advice for people joining is to enjoy the program and give it your all.-Anthony Lopez

The program really helped me with my singing, you guys taught me a lot about how my posture really affects my singing and how to warm up my voice before singing and how to drop my jaw to create a better sound. My favorite parts about the program is when we did the barbershop quartet stuff. I would just say not to be scared and just give it all you got.- Justin Ramirez

i really enjoyed this program it helped me to improve my people skills my favorite part was the pride i felt when we performed and did good i didnt have any reservations about this program and i highly suggest the same to anyone who joins the program have fun and let go. -Ismael Rubio

The only thing I disliked about the program was the lunches (but I mean, they were provided by the school, so what can you expect?). Everything else, from the students to the teachers, from the costumes to the final performance, were amazing. It really pulled me out of my comfort zone. My favorite part was making friends among a group of people who share my passions, even though meeting new people was probably the scariest part initially. My advice to any potential COT4T students is to realize that lots of the kids are just as scared as you are. Get out there and be brave, you've nothing to lose. -Caitlyn Menchaca (<3)

I loved the program, it was an awesome thing to do over the summer because it helped me improve in many ways. It helped me a lot with communicating and interacting with older people since the program was for people of every year in high school. I learned a lot of things for singing like posture how to make something louder without it getting ugly and warm up activities for singing. Most importantly I learned how to stand and talk on stage while acting, I got very comfortable and got better at acting on stage because I had stage fright. For people that are stage fright I would really recommend this program because not only does it keep you safe here in school providing you with a safe environment, food and nice climate but it helps you with skills on singing and acting and you get to meet a lot of people and professional people that can help you with a career and it makes you get comfortable with other people and on stage. - Jennifer Garcia

This program is very fun and it is worth doing more and more but I will and only could do three more of this program. I meet new people that I would have never talked to or I never would have known. But from this program I talked to a lot of people that is now my friends that I am gladed to say their my friends. That is the best part of this program.To talk to people that I would never talked to.You guys should do this program because you can meet a lot of new people and it is worth doing and exploring something that you never know about yourself. I grow so much this summer because I meet so many people and I gotten use to talking in front of people. - Lyndsay Brady

I have not been bored at all since this program has started. Not only did I finally get experience for future purposes, but I also got it by doing something that I'm experienced with and love. To those who will be joining the programs later on, all I have to say is be yourself. Pretend no one is watching you during the actual performance even though they are. If you think you can't sing, just wait until you join this program. Singing is only sustained talking. (; Quote by Harold Hill himself. Enjoy your time in the program because it goes by fast! First day, you'll be learning to sing, next thing you know you're on stage performing. Good luck, everyone! - Frankie Torres

This program helped me improved by learning to be in the audience and to not be scared. My favorite parts was learning how to dance the new moves our teacher showed us. I learned to do my performance without fear and not worrying what other say about you and your performance. For the the people who are scared in front of the audience is that to focus on what they're doing and not worry who are watching them because that's what makes them freak out in the audience and to try their best. -Julissa Mosqueda

The program helped me to feel more comfortable working in groups. My
favorite part was playing those games with our class mates that helped
us with our performance. For people who are scared to join this
program i would just say they shouldn't be because the teachers in the
program try to make you feel comfortable while trying to push you to
your limits to be the best you could be.- Cynthia Alvarez

The program helped me improve with my confidence level. 
My favorite parts were when everyone was on their A game because it made the production better.
I learned to expand my voice and sing in different registers. 
People shouldn't be scared to audition because it's a safe open minded community who rely on one another to improve.  -Anais Macias

The program was the bees knees it was off the chain it was the b-o-m-b the hot tamales, It was #dope. It helped me with my singing drastically since i was a complete novice to singing. My favorite parts of course where the ones im in and the Pick A Little Ladies, also the chasing sing. If you are sincerely nervous for auditioning just STOP because you need to be open and silly to join! #swag -Salvador Lopez

I loved this program, Both instructors worked as hard as they could to always maintain a positive attitude towards us and help most of us come out of our shells. I feel that I am now able to sing songs with higher notes, the two instructors (Dr. D'Agostino and Mr.Roemer) really helped me understand that nothing is impossible with confidence and being able to believe in yourself (after all, as Audrey Hepburn said, Even the word impossible says "Im Possible") My favorite parts were learning new songs and dances together as a group. I am grateful to have experienced this. -Nancy Contreras 

I really liked the program alot! i honestly thought that it would be boring but it was actually fun to sing and dance old good music , before COT4T i saw dancing and singing really boring and dumb , but singing and dancing the music man really changed my way of seeing dancing and singing . dancing and singing was boring at first , but now that i experienced dancing and singing , it made me think that dancing and singing is really fun. i really enjoyed being in quartet , and singing with a high pitch voice , witch made everyone laugh , but the best part was doing the performance , COT4T really made my summer a lot more fun. Thank you for letting me in the Chicago opera theater .  - Job Salgado

It was a pleasure being in this program. I simply adored everything. I had so much fun. I rather be here than anywhere else. It's so sad that we have to leave, I really don't want to. Anyways I want to come back here in the fall! -luis cejeda

I really liked the program because it helped me improved on my singing skills. my favorite parts were designing props and when we were practicing and people messed up it made us all laugh. I learned how to control my voice.i really loved being a part of this team because i learned new skills and i also made a very good amount of friends. -Citlali Garcia

The COT4T program was fun and new experience to go through during the summer. I had performed before but never like this, normally I would only do ballroom performances but never show choir like events. The instructors were really kind to me also because they had asked me to choreograph a small dance number which made me feel important since my main passion is dance. Not only me but others in the program were also recognized for their amazing talents. I know i'll find myself doing this again eventually. -Jonathan Patino 

COT4T helped me improve my skills to work with other people because back than I would not be patient with people. My favorite parts of the show was when we were pretending to play instruments on 76 trombones. My advice for people who want to joined this program is try something you have never done because you are going to look back and say to yourself I should have done something different. -Francesca Muro

I enjoyed this program, and I also had a great time this summer with instruments also with the little firecrackers throwing them on the floor scaring people in shipoopi. It also help my improve on being more comfortable with other people around me.  -Miriam Mendoza

I personally enjoyed this program. I recommend this program to all who are interested to join. My Favorite part was shipoopi it was a very fun scene - Aylin Sanchez

I had an amazing time this summer in this program. It gave me confidence about doing things I don't normally do everyday. Now I see that there is other things to do in the summer besides football or other sports. Thank you for everything. :) - Marsean Reynolds

I really enjoyed being a part of COT. I had a lot of fun and learned some new things regarding singing and acting. -Kevin Castro

I have learned a lot of new skills this summer. It was great being in this program because it not only taught me to take a job serious but to become a more responsible person. I loved playing interacting games with everyone. Every one who is afraid to join the program shouldn't have anything to worry about. It is a great place to be in. You learn new things but have so much fun at the same time. -KELLY DOMINGUEZ

This summer was very different. In COT4T I learned alot of life lesson advice and skills. I liked when we got to work on our own or in small groups to practice stuff. I enjoyed the program alot and it helped me not be scared of audiences. I also learned to stay committed to something and how responsibility. It was very helpful and I will miss it a lot! -Giselle Perez

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer with Opera for All

Grace McIntosh - COT Summer Education Intern

My experience with Chicago Opera Theater has been nothing short of exceptional! The students' performance of "Jazz on Fire" at Reilly Elementary was a perfect introduction to the Opera for All mission. I jumped right into grading post tests and inputting data from pre-tests, post tests, Fall evaluations, and Spring evaluations. I analyzed this data to create a PowerPoint presentation for our donors that highlights the students favorite aspects of OFA. I created a Shutterfly album to celebrate the 2013-2014 OFA program and show off our students' and teaching artists' hard work.

Preparations for the 2014-2015 program are coming along nicely! The Education Department has been excited to create this year's program around the theme Dinosaurs: A Terrific Tail. Linden, Jess, and I visited the Field Museum to gather facts and construct the lesson plans to accompany the field trip to the Field Museum this Fall. I have also worked on writing the lesson plan and editing the script for Alice In Wonderland. Student Journal assembly will be in full swing soon and the Education Department is ready for the new year!

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Emma Bonanno, COT Teaching Artist Intern

It’s been a whirlwind semester with Opera for All! Over the past several months the students have been putting together all the pieces of their operas – the songs, the dances, the fight choreography, the props, the costumes, the staging – and finally we have arrived at performance time. During this week and next week, students at all six of our schools had or will have their final performances of Jazz on Fire, and boy, are they excited!

It’s always incredible to see how far these shows come and how fantastic the finished projects are. Many of the students begin our program never having sung, danced, or acted. Most of them have never seen an opera, and maybe don’t even know what an opera is. And here they are, a mere nine months later, performing in their very own opera that they have created! It is such a great feeling to see these students take charge of their work the day of the performance and really knock one out of the park.

The rehearsal process in the weeks approaching a performance is many times tedious and stressful, even for professional adult performers. There were times over the past few weeks when morale was low, students and teachers alike were worried and stressed, and it was hard to keep focused. However, when the students were finally able to get the show in front of an audience, everything came together!

For many of these kids, this was the first show they have ever been a part of - the first time they’ve ever felt the thrill of getting up in front an audience and putting on a performance that they, their teachers, their parents, and all of us here at COT can be proud of. These performances are the point at which they finally see how far they’ve come and take ownership of their work, just like true professionals.

Also like professionals, the students learn through their final performances that the show must go on. Everyone, even the most famous actors and singers, has made a mistake on stage at one point or another – and often these mistakes happen much more frequently than we imagine! None of the Jazz on Fire shows came out with every little tiny piece exactly as it was written on the page and rehearsed, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And judging by the smiles, excitement, and laughter following the performances, I think the students would agree with me!


All Jazzed up from ‘Jazz on Fire’

Bryna Berezowska, COT Teaching Artist

We finished the epic year long endeavor to make learning and creating an opera super fun. This process give students the unique experience of not only performing a show, but actually creating every single little bit of it all by themselves! The students not only wrote their own awesomely detailed character bios, scripts, song lyrics, melodies, but they also designed their own props, sets, and learned some pretty tricky dance moves and cool slow motion fight choreography. The students put all the elements together for an excellent final performance! 

Dominic, a student at Courtenay, was just thrilled and shocked that his drawing made it onto the final T-shirt design. All he could say was ‘wow’! It is quite an honor to be chosen, because all the students at every school will be wearing the shirts for the final performance! All of the hard work and effort that each student puts into creating a show of this magnitude really pays off when they get on that stage and see it all come together. The teachers and audience get into the show, and you can see the confidence it gives the kids.   

The final performances were great successes at both Sabin and Courtenay! Both schools really pulled it together, sang beautifully, dances full out, acted amazingly, and really gave there all in the final show! It was an excellent year all around!
Final Performance at Courtenay

Final Performance at Sabin

Opera for All at Chase Elementary School

Jennifer D'Agostino, COT Teaching Artist  
 We have been having so much fun this semester during our second year of "Opera For All" at Chase Elementary! My team and I are working with the 5th and 6th grade classes of Ms. Quick, Ms. Martinez, and Mr. Borges. We are very excited to premier our performance of "OPERA ON FIRE" Tuesday, May 27th @ 2pm.
Since I usually lead the classes, it's often hard for me to step back and document all of the fun learning moments. Some really great guest visits gave me a chance to use my iPhone and take videos and pictures!
Combat Workshop, led by COT Marketing Manager Whitney Hershberger and her combat partner Mark Penzien, was a session that got our students REALLY excited! It was great to see the kids listening carefully, following directions, and executing real stage combat moves! My favorite part was when one student, Diego, had to pair up with his teacher Mr. Borges! After a well delivered fake punch to his teacher's gut, Diego exclaimed: "This is the best day of my life!" Enjoy a video and some pictures of the day's final product!

Every year, we are impressed with the skills of artist Sonja Henderson. This year was no exception! We are so excited to show off our well-painted Chicago Skyline backdrop, our detailed costumes, and especially our Takis!
Dance day is always received with enthusiasm! This year, choreographer Caryn Ott taught each class a unique dance that utilizes a jazz song. Thank goodness kids are awesome dancers... we only had TWO DAYS to put it all together!
A lot of people may wonder: "How do we compose these fantastic songs with our students?" It's a process that we have really grown to love! After the students write the lyrics our composer comes in to help them develop a melody. Our composer this semester was Justin Callis. You can read more about the experience from his perspective on his OFA blog post.
The Chase kids are so great. They are ready for their performance and we still have 3 weeks left! I have been overwhelmed by the positive support from the teachers, staff, and students, who all get to benefit from having "Opera For All."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Teaching Stage Combat to Elementary Students!!

Mark Penzien, Fight Master and Stage Combat Guest Artist for Opera for All
When my friend, Whitney Hershberger, contacted me about helping her teach stage combat as part of the COT Opera For All program, I was excited to be involved.  When I was told it would be 13 classes of middle-school students, and we’d have only an hour with each class, I panicked a little.  After all, even though stage combat is fake fighting, it is a dance of sorts that is highly choreographed to deliver a good story, and an exciting spectacle, but mostly to ensure safety of the combatants.  The professionals have been training for years or decades.  How could we teach them enough to be interesting, but keep them safe?
Trained stage combatants don’t generally go “all out” with a lot of speed.  If they did, the audience is going to miss most of what happens.  That lack of full speed is also for safety.  What if we went to the other extreme and taught the kids slow motion fights?
So Whitney and I went about choreographing a simple fight that included slaps, punches, pushes, and hair pulls.  (It’s amazing how much fun it is to get into a brawl with a friend when you know neither is going to get hurt!)  Along the way, we discovered how to make the fight interesting:
If it can’t be flashy or fast, make it BIIIIIG!!
I’m not talking a fight with 6 or 7 people at once.  No, I mean wear the biggest, meanest-looking fighting faces.  Choreograph large movements that ordinarily would look clownish.  And encourage vocalizations that are fierce, loud and drawn out.  With the fight slowed down, the audience gets to take in all of the minutiae that usually get mixed together in typical stage combat.
When we got into the classrooms, there was a lot of excitement to be learning (and being allowed) to fight.  Naturally, it was a constant struggle to make sure everyone remained in slow motion and that safety was being respected.  Whitney and I even made sure that safety wasn’t just the first rule of stage combat, but the first three!  “Safety for myself, safety for my partner and safety for those around me.”  Once we had that ingrained, it was a lot of fun for teachers and students alike!
Seeing the students take to the choreography and make it their own was quite rewarding!  Once the movements were familiar, the warrior faces that were donned were impressive.  A beastly face that normally would be comedic took on very serious tones because of the vocality and slowed-down energy of the fights.  I truly worry about the Great Chicago Fire that these students will be fighting in their operas!

COT for Teens at Gallery 37

Chris Richard, COT for Teens Teaching Artist
What an amazing semester we had!  Our teens just ate up everything that we threw at them...and we threw a lot!
This term we focused on a scenes type program - not a full show.  A program such as this is quite common and we explained to them the numbers we chose were from a WIDE range of styles. We were fortunate to have so many good students that we wanted to give as many of them as possible a chance to shine, so we had LOTS of SOLOS!!!  Our program of numbers were easy to transport to various locations, which was great because we performed our program at several locations.  This gave the students many chances to perform, learn to deal with nerves, learn to change performance spaces and the technicalities that go along with all of that.
Our program was as follows:
Ever After, Act 1 Finale from Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim
Va, penseiro from Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
Cell Block Tango from Chicago by Kander & Ebb
A Weekend In The Country, Act 1 Finale from A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim
Who Will Love Me As I Am? from Side Show by Russell & Krieger
We performed all of these selections at The Museum of Contemporary Art along with the other Gallery37 performing groups from ASM.  We also made a jaunt up into Lincoln Park and sang our numbers for the Sunrise Senior Living Center.  The audience there was very appreciative of our sound and bright energy filling the space!
We had visits from a number of members of the COT staff, which is always a welcome and informative diversion from Ms. Ott & I cracking the whip.
After we took our students to the Dress Rehearsal of Queenie Pie, a few of the leads came to visit our classroom. The teens were enthralled with them and had MANY questions for the panel.  The Queenie Pie cast were gracious enough to let our students perform for them too! 
Another wonderful highlight was a visit from some staff and students from Northwestern University.  These students were Music Theater majors and all of them sang a number individually for us.  It was especially inspiring since these NU students are the ‘next level’ of where our students want to be.  We almost couldn’t get them to STOP talking to each other!  It was really great to hear how the NU students transitioned from high school into one of the top universities in the country….and it’s in our own back yard!!!!

Our last performance of the term was for Chicago Opera Theater’s Spring Gala on April 24.  We paired with the Solorio students to perform ‘Va, pensiro’.  I think our students might even call this the biggest highlight of our term.  Our teens performed just as beautifully as the professionals earlier in the evening.  I heard through the grapevine that COT Board President, Henry Fogel was so moved by our teens performance the he snatched the microphone from the emcee to say a few unplanned kind words about our teens…THANK YOU to Mr. Fogel!!!
It seems I say this every term, but it’s true – I am honored to be a part of this program and am in awe of the teens. I am extremely proud of each and every one of them. THEY inspire ME!

COT for Teens at Solorio Academy High School

Michael Roemer, COT for Teens Teaching Artist

Early in the month of April, the Chicago Opera Theater for Teens at Solorio gave their final performance. It was such a joy and thrill to see the students up on the stage as they saw the ten-week program through the end. Some were introduced to opera for the very first time! They performed “Modern Major General” from Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, “Prologue” from Sweeney Todd by Sondheim, “Va pensiero” from Nabucco by Verdi, “You can't stop the beat” from Hairspray by Marc Shaiman, and “We're all in this together” from High School Musical. We had one senior, Valeria Lopez, who sang “Nel cor piu non mi sento” by Giovanni Paisiello.

This is my second semester working with students at Solorio, and I'm always surprised to see which students step out of their comfort zone and accept the challenges during the program. The final performance marks an important benchmark for all of the teens. They were onstage in front of their parents and in front of their peers, which can be some of the most nerve-racking moments in life. No matter what happened on the stage, mistakes and all, they kept going. They saw it through, and the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes after is quite an amazing thing to see.

The final performance shows only a portion of what goes on during our program. We were very blessed to have many talented professionals come to talk or teach our students about different professional areas surrounding the arts. Performers from the Queenie Pie cast came in to talk with our teens, and they learned about how much energy it takes to be a performer. It was an inspiring moment to see Lil Daddy, Jeffrey Polk, showing the kids a more energized version of “You can't stop the beat” including added cartwheels. Several Chicago Opera Theater staff members came, including Jessica Weber, who spoke to them about building resumes and college preparation. Terry Harper and Jane Hulburt came and talked about their experience in the arts field. Terry awed them with stories from his life and Jane provided a nice perspective on the importance of communication, networking, and opportunities including internships. Earlier in the semester, we brought in Enanna Sheena, a student at Northwestern University pursuing a degree in speech and language pathology. They were amazed to see how the voice works from a medical standpoint.

All of these opportunities, guests, and experiences give the teens important exposure to a large world of possibility. We gave them an opportunity to act on the stage as a different person or learn what it takes to be a different person. Every semester is a challenge and a success story about how the students learn to be punctual, responsible, and energetic as they reach for their goals. Music and opera is a powerful tool that continues to inspire and challenge a future generation. I cannot wait for another semester to see new and returning students and present them with more opportunities and challenges. We return to Solorio with a summer program of Chicago Opera Theater for Teens, presenting The Music Man.

Monday, April 14, 2014

All That Jazz…

Caryn Ott Hillman, Opera for All Choreographer
6 very different CPS grade schools, 13 classes filled with a wide range of abilities, 3 different dance - all to honor the genre of JAZZ!

  With Duke Ellington in our COT season, it was really exciting to offer the opportunity to teach jazz in the classroom!  What a “cool” way to grab their ears but with the blaring brass of Goodman’s SING SING SING, the off beats of Gershwin’s FASCINATING RHYTHM or Tito Puente’s Latin soul in  OYE COMO VA.  (And I gotta say – choreographing all three was a BLAST…A dancer’s dream!)  I had the chance to introduce Tap Dance into the curriculum with the first two because jazz invites you to move your feet to same rhythm as the song’s.  Then, the Latin beat easily translated into moving your hips and cha-cha-ing to the phrases. 

   A lot of the kids totally embodied the COOLNESS of their jazz by adding their own onomatopoeia sound effects to the crash of the cymbal drum, vocal grunts to their more aggressive poses or their drastic volume contrasts between their foot stumps and their toe hops.  Truly,  the proof of them subliminally sensing the complexity of jazz comes alive when they have the opportunity to use their bodies and voices to imitate what they hear!  This is solely why we are here.  To enrich their minds with the creativity that music has to offer.  

     Sadly, as the Guest Artist Choreographer, I only had 2 hours with each class.  It was a quick introduction, throw a whole lot of physical exercise through dance at them, make them do it over and over (they hated me for that part!) and then I had to say good bye.  However, I did experience the characteristics of each classroom, all with very different dynamics. Believe it or not, some of the children that stood out as the most misbehaved became my Dance Captains because of their stellar “dance off” auditions to see who knew the combinations the best. It’s truly mind blowing how the physicality of movement-to-music can ignite the brains to those that appear to be unattached.  Having a daughter that has been diagnosed as ADHD, I know this first hand.  The language I speak best with my own daughter is MOVEMENT.

     I would have loved to have gotten to know each child more intimately, but my job does not allow for as much.  Alas, I received many hugs to know that I gave a gift – the love of dance through the awesomeness of JAZZ!
Students follow Ms. Ott's lead while learning the choreography