Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dance Day!

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Joy. That is the word that comes to mind as I think about our dance days at Field Elementary and Armstrong Elementary schools. There was joy on the student’s faces as they felt so proud of their hard work, and joy on the teacher’s faces as we watched even some of the very shy students come out of their shells.

Dance requires patience, focus and a desire to have fun. All of these elements came together magically as we unleashed our inner Katy Perry in “Roar,” and clapped to the infectious rhythms of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” As someone who tends to trip over my own feet, I found myself goofily jumping around and enjoying myself as much as the students. Even some of the teachers demonstrated their mad dancing skills, and the students couldn’t get enough of it.

I continue to be thoroughly impressed by the student’s adaptability as we throw new elements of performance at them. Singing, acting and now dancing are all coming together, and the student created operas are taking shape and coming to joyous life before our very eyes. I could not be more proud of our students and the amazing work being done in CPS classrooms as we share our love of opera and performance art with the next generation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Caryn Ott Hillman, Guest Teaching Artist

Oh Yeah, baby!  Dinosaur was the theme to this year's Opera For All and the song choices were soooooooo much fun!
Each song took on a different theme for me, as far as choreography:

Michael Jackson's Bad:

Without a doubt, MJ had a dance style all his own.  There is NO other way to dance to his music, so why fight it?   There were moves that I specifically took from different videos, like "The Lean" from Smooth Criminal, "Walk and Snap" from Beat It and the famous "Moonwalk."  The kids loved-loved-loved this dance and I loved teaching it! 

Katy Perry's Roar

I was excited about this song because of how strong it is.  I incorporated boxing and iconic super hero moves to personify the power of Strength!  Plus, I just had to make the kids real vocalize a Roar every time is was sung in the music.

1980's Walk The Dinosaur

This song takes me back because I was young when this song came out on the radio.  The 1980's had many style of dances that helped define that decade.  Some of my inspirations were from the movie The Breakfast Club and  the rap duo, Kid-N-Play.

Pharell's Happy

What makes me love this song so much is the clapping rhythm that exists throughout the song!  Every time I hear it on the radio in my car, I take my hands off the wheel to "Clap along if you feel what Happiness means to you."  Naturally, I added clapping.  And since I can never make any dance simple, I have different rhythms of clapping layered on top of each other by different groups in each class. (Yes - for this reason, Happy was the most challenging song that I taught!  That, and the fact that  - IT IS SUPER FAST!)  Thank goodness, the kids were proud of themselves when the nailed it.

     This Spring, Opera For All has chosen schools that seem to represent our changing world here in Chicago. Chase, Reilly and McAuliffe are three of the five schools that I choreographed for.  Based on seeing and hearing the children file into the auditoriums, I was compelled to utilize my very basic Spanish to connect with these 4th and 5th graders.  When instructing my dances, I used words like: durecha y izcierda (right and left), manos (hands),  pied (foot), rodilla (knee) and of course uno-dos-tres-quarto...

It may seem so simple to me and you but for these children, they appreciate being taken seriously.  If I can communicate with them easier and help them comprehend what I am asking them to do, why would I not try to speak in a language they feel more comfortable using?  

     I am realizing that whether we want it or not, the Latino and Hispanic cultures are becoming more and more dominant as our community is expanding.  It is inevitable.  I don't want to fight this metamorphosis, I want to change with the times.  Just like adapting to the new technology around us, we need to accept shifts in the way we USED to do things.  We need to  celebrate new additions to our community and culture.  We need to embrace the people that feel unwelcome and help them root themselves in our neighborhoods.  We all come from some line of immigrants and our ancestors were forced to endure this same transition.  Why can't we learn from the past and move past "scary" differences and offer an open heart without judgment?

     I, for one, am continuing to brush up on my Spanish (and technology knowledge) through Duo-lingo.  Next year, I hope to incorporate more verbs into my Spanish instruction and connect with these darling faces that are staring back at me.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Song Creation

Becky Sorenson, Opera for All Teaching Artist

I taught both at Disney II and subbed at McAuliffe during song creation, and it was interesting to get to see two different takes on how to tackle this challenge. At Disney, we had the luxury of students who have a great music teacher who has taught them to sing using solfege, however at McAuliffe, the students don't have any regular music education in their school.

At Disney, Justin took the approach of calling on students, asking them for a short collection of solfege syllables to fit a bit of text. We gathered about 4 ideas per bit of text, and then played and sang them for the class. Next, we had the students put their heads down and vote on which melody they liked best. I made sure to get suggestions from everyone in the class, even those that don't usually speak up! We made sure they had post-it notes on which to write down their ideas, so they had time to think. I also explained that often steps and small skips are more memorable melodies than huge jumps across the scale. This approach worked very well!

Kaitlin took a different approach at McAuliffe, splitting the students into groups and giving them cut out numbers in lieu of solfege syllables. the students then arranged the numbers into 4 beat patterns and after working in groups, shared them with the class. Again, we talked about the elements that make a memorable melody that is easy to sing, and guided the students toward what makes musical sense to their ears. The result were melodies that are VERY memorable (even as a sub, I can still sing all of their songs)!