Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Opera for All at Armstrong Elementary School

Sara Litchfield - COT Teaching Artist

Teaching Artist, Justin Callis and myself have had the privilege of working with two exceptional classes (Ms. Kolb’s 4th grade class and Mrs. Dayer’s 3rd grade class) at George B. Armstrong International Studies Elementary School.  For having started almost a month later than the other schools participating in OFA, we have been able to cover quite a bit of material with them to lay the groundwork for the creation of our spring operas.  

For our Winter Showcase, the students began by teaching their parents one of our favorite theater games, Zip Zap Zop.  We then performed the following jazz songs for our audience of students and parents: I’ve Got Rhythm by Gershwin, Moon River by Henry Mancini, It Don’t Mean A Thing and Take the A Train, both written by Duke Ellington.   Each song was introduced by a pair of students who were also asked to include an interesting fact about the piece or composer that they had researched on their own.   Justin and I even learned a few things from these informative introductions, in particular that Duke Ellington’s last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.”  

In between songs, the students shared poems they had written in preparation for the songs we will be writing this semester.  We had poems ranging in topic from Duke Ellington, who was described as a “Swellington” to Justin Bieber, who tends to pop up a lot, much to my chagrin.  Justin Bieber aside, these students are always eager to participate, share and learn and very often approach Justin and I with really thoughtful questions or facts about jazz or opera that they have discovered on their own time. 

In one of our final classes, a young man asked me if he could use some free time to sketch set and costumes ideas in his opera journal and then explained how his mom recently bought him his very own opera journal so that he could start composing his own opera at home.  Talk about a, “cup runneth over” moment.  From the creativity and originality that I have already seen from these two classes, I could not be more excited to observe the opera creation that will unfold in the months ahead. 

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