Friday, January 23, 2015

Opera for All, Semester Two!

Justin Berkowitz, Opera for All Assistant Teaching Artist

Well, while we’re only two weeks into the winter and spring semester of Opera for All at McAuliffe Elementary School (thanks to a snow day at the beginning of the month) things are already off and running for the fifth grade students!

This week was an exciting and important one, as we began the process of transforming the amazing lyrics that our students wrote during the fall into a melody that will guide and shape the song, which will be written for them to perform during their shows.  Our kids have some really cool and crazy plots involving very hungry dinosaurs, drowning dinosaurs and some evil dinosaur robots!  One of the challenges that comes with transforming these lyrics into a song is just getting all of the kids to remember how each of the different verses go – but with a little encouragement from Kaitlin and myself, they start “rapping” their words in no time.

Since McAuliffe doesn’t have a music program where the kids are learning solfege or sight reading, it was up to Kaitlin and I to figure out how to go about teaching them about pitch and the order of pitches for writing a melody.  This is a difficult concept to explain to even classically trained singers and music teachers – so figuring out how to adopt some of our training for fifth graders took a little bit of time! 

We decided that the best route was to teach them a basic diatonic scale using numbers (1 through 5) and create a sort of “number bank” that the kids could utilize while making melody.  We started by teaching the kids that any song can be sung on numbers.  Jingle Bells seemed like an easy one to transfer to numbers (3 3 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5 1…2, 3 etc.) so we started by singing this song with them on numbers.  Then, we broke the kids up into groups and had them start composing – asking them in groups of three or four students to fill a box with some numbers. The only rule is that for each box (or measure) you have to have 4 numbers between 1 and 5.  With that information, the kids were off, thinking of little diatonic melodies without even realizing they were composing!!!

As the kids filled their boxes with numbers, we created a larger chart on the board, so that every small group could offer up one box (measure) that would be on the board, which leaves us with somewhere between 6 and 8 measures to start with.  The next step will come next week as we try and organize these little measures to make the most beautiful melody we can! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Back to School

Julianne Olson, Teaching Artist

               After a very successful first semester, the students came back from winter break with just as many creative ideas to kick off 2015 as they had blown us away with in 2014!  With an ambitious semester ahead of us consisting of song writing, choreography, role assignments, creation of sets and costumes, and more, we wanted to get off to an upbeat start by having fun and using our imaginations!  Our first class after the break, the kids started off the day by enthusiastically singing “A Terrific Tale.”  Following that, the children laughed hysterically as groups competed to see which group could repeat the most tongue twisters in a row, and who could do it the fastest:  “Toy Boat, Toy Boat, Toy Boat…” and “Unique New York.”  Then they created very unique stories in the drama game:  “Fortunately, Unfortunately.”  Here’s how the game works: one student starts with a simple sentence such as:  “There was a monkey who wanted to be famous.”  The next person adds on to the story by saying, “Fortunately, the monkey had a lot of money…”  The next student contributes by saying, “Unfortunately the monkey had bad breathe…”  The game switches between the two adverbs until the story is complete.  Between the classes, we had stories about very eclectic dreams one can have a night time, exploding bird nests, and walking pickles in heaven.  In effort to keep the creativity flowing, we played a classroom game of Pictionary.   In rotation, a group of three students would run to the board to draw the secret subject which I would reveal to them, while another group would guess what it was.  This game proved to make our goal of ‘having fun,’ a goal met, as the drawings under strict time constraint, left much up to the imagination, and for those guessing, a difficult task indeed.

                The grandiose and witty minds of the students never cease to amaze me and I can’t wait to see what they continue to create!   The experiences that have been the most noteworthy to me are the breakthroughs we see when students who may have started off the fall semester very shy, now are evolving into the most creative and active participants in the classroom!  That is what Opera for All is all about, to help students find their inner artist and to instill confidence in each student as they grow in their understanding of the world of opera, the arts, production and performing.  As the year moves forward, I believe OFA will be a catalyst for such growth. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fall at Chicago Opera Theater's Opera for All

Heather Keith - COT Assistant Teaching Artist

The winter showcase was a great success this year! I am the assistant teaching artist at both Chase Elementary and Reilly Elementary this year and I feel like all the students at both my schools showed great pride in their accomplishments.

For this year’s showcase we decided to share a potion of the scripts and lyrics the kids have been working so hard on this semester. We also learned part of a song written by COT teaching artist Justin Callas entitled “ A Terrific Tale”. I was so impressed to see how quickly the students picked up on the melody and the song. Their natural musical instincts are extremely impressive. 

Along with showing the students written and musical accomplishments, we included their dinosaur drawings in the showcase. At Chase we featured students in the program and at Reilly we had a slideshow displaying several student pictures. The goal of this is to share with our audience all the different art forms that go into creating an opera.

We ended the showcase with the children dancing to “Oye Como Va” and I think this was something they were all really proud of. I remember while teaching the students the dance, many were unsure of their abilities and nervous they would forget the choreography. Many students practice outside of class time and helped each other learn some of the trickier parts. The extra work paid off, because by the time the music was on the students were all smiles!

Both schools had a great turn out and it was nice to see the parents of the student’s get just as excited as we are for the final spring performance.