Monday, November 23, 2015

Lyric Writing and Composition Days

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

During the last few weeks the students have been focusing on writing the songs they will perform in their opera this upcoming spring. Not only do the kids get to take part in writing the lyrics of the songs, we have composers come in and help them create their own original melodies! 

(Composer Aaron Benham working with McAuliffe students to create their class song)

During our composition days we typically start with writing lyrics. I find this a great jumping off point since the kids have usually been given the opportunity to write poetry and have a basic understanding of rhyme scheme. We take what they have already learned in their language arts classes and build on that knowledge as we describe what goes into song writing. We explain that using the same number of syllables in each line of a section and incorporating AA or ABAB rhyme schemes are great ways to begin writing a song. Once they seem to have a grasp on those elements we build to more complex rhyme schemes or adding a bridge. One class at Chase is adding a round into their time traveling song. Which is particularly impressive since their song also utilizes line dancing and will be used as a leitmotif through out the production. They are incredible!

(Students at Chase brain storming lyrics)

(Composer Adam Busch inspiring Chase students as they compose)

(Composing is hard work! Always remember to take breaks J )

To help the students understand the process of composing we explained different musical styles and touched briefly on solfege. First the class picked a style that they believed fit in to the plot we have already created. The composer would then improvise in that style to make sure we were all in agreement. Next, the class would either call out numbers that correlated to notes on the scale, or in some cases the students would just sing melodies that they came up with on the spot.

 I was so impressed, not only by the creativity of the students, but with the talent of our composers. Their ability to come up with exciting and imaginative melodies in merely moments was amazing! Each song written for the 13 classes I teach is completely different and incredibly addictive. All the teaching artists leave with these tunes in our heads and the students leave knowing they helped create something that is not only original, but of a professional quality. 

(McAuliffe students singing their class song)

I love being able to see these kids grow and discover their creative potential. When I see a child get excited over creating a really catchy rhyme, or realizing that even in something like opera you can add elements of rap or dance rhythms, there’s really nothing better. They are learning that opera can be whatever they want it to be, and they are learning that opera is a medium where each of their unique voices can be heard.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Once Upon A Time at Opera for All...

Matt McNabb, Opera for All Teaching Artist

Picture it: Hundreds of students visiting the Chicago History Museum, walking around with a scavenger hunt worksheet, finding out new and fascinating facts about the people and places of our great city of Chicago. There’s a buzz of excitement as the students accomplish the goal of filling out their worksheets and choosing their favorite characters and settings of Chicago history.

Now move forward a couple weeks to the classrooms. The teachers walk in anticipating great things from their students. And let me tell you, we were not disappointed. We just completed one of my favorite sections of our Opera For All curriculum-Story Creation! The students took their knowledge gained from their field trip, and collaboratively with the classroom teachers and teaching artists created the stories that will become the scripts for each of the class operas. The students picked their favorite historical characters (including important character traits), Chicago settings and also crafted a plot, including story elements of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and themes.

I continue to be impressed by the creativity and ingenuity I see from the students. Each of the 11 opera plots we helped create with the students are different and original, and watching them organically unfold in the space of two class sessions is truly something to behold.

I anticipate that our audiences this year will experience greater depth of emotions, more subtle storytelling and a wider breadth of characters and settings than they have ever experienced before. These past two weeks have turned out to be more gratifying than I could have imagined, and I thank the students, my fellow teaching artists, the Chicago Opera Theatre team and all the staff at our fabulous schools for cultivating such an amazing atmosphere of creativity and exploration this year! As we take our newly created unique stories and craft our scripts and songs and dances, I can promise that this year is full of adventure and promise. And I can’t wait to share these stories! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Allotta Yee-haws and Boot Scoots

Caryn Ott Hillman, Chicago Opera Theater for Teens, Director

Mr. Chris Richard and I have started the Solorio school year with a quick two-step as we sing our way through the Oklahoma Territory! Yep, we are putting together Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic, OKLAHOMA! Our cast makes up many returning teens from past semesters along with some new faces…and it seems every semester, they all get stronger and more confident!

So far, we have them all hootin’ and hollorin’ as the Farmers and the Cowmen having a dance off at the Box Social and we just finished the choreography for “Oklahoma” with lots of lifts for extra exciting ending to the show. We are off to a great start to prepare us for the five performances we have planned.

At Solorio we hope to have all our family and friends come to see the show on Dec. 4-5. Plus, we are also putting in Student Service Hours as we perform at two retirement homes, Autumn Green at Midway on Nov. 24 and The Breakers in Edgewater on Dec. 5. The last performance we are hoping to schedule is at Hernandez Middle School in hopes to ignite future performers for Chicago Opera Theater for Teens.

Of course, along the journey of putting together a show, we find it essential to build bonds between the cast because they are different grade levels and from different schools, therefore, a strong cast MUST trust each other which allows each actor to take risks. Mr. Richard taught the teens an intricate game that requires concentration, vocalization and coordination. By repeatedly tossing a ball to the same person and receiving it from another person, a syncretized web is built as more balls are added. True, many times the balls drop and the game comes to a halt, but it’s really amazing see all the teens tune in and send energy to another teen.

Any long, tiring journey always needs inspiration…that’s why we brought in COT’s very own: Dan Grambow!!!!!! Yesiree, Dan came in and showed the teens how it’s done in very different genres of song. Folk, Opera and Art song – in English and German – he gave our teens insight as to what it takes to prepare for the future, whether it be in performing or creating a company. Dan was an excellent example of the energy-driven, character-based, diction-filled effort that we are asking of the teens. Thank you, Dan, for visiting us!

So for now…we have about 9 more weeks to make this the best term yet!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carmen and the Bull!

Erin Moll, Opera for All Teaching Artist

We had a very fun filled week at Opera For All! Not only have our students begun writing the scripts for their operas, but we also had guest performers from Chicago Opera Playhouse perform “Carmen & the Bull” for our students! The show “Carmen & the Bull” is a combination of the story “Ferdinand the Bull” with the music from Georges Bizet’s Carmen. The story follows a dancing, traveling gypsy as she befriends Ferdinand the Bull, his mother and a bullfighter! It explores the theme of bullying and teaches students to always be true to themselves!

In order to prepare them for the show, we listened to excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen and also did a Readers Theater of parts of the script. The students had fun acting out scenes from Carmen & the Bull and pretending to be the characters of Carmen, Ferdinand, his Mother, and Antonio the Bullfighter! 

The students had a lot of fun watching the show and participating! Over the last two months, OFA students have been working on music from Carmen & the Bull so they could participate in the show as the opera chorus! They learned two songs, the “Little Bulls Chorus” and the “Toreador Song.” I was impressed with how well the students learned these songs, picking up on very complicated rhythms in the Little Bulls Chorus. When it came to the performance, the students sang their hearts out! Overall, the show was a blast!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trip to the Chicago History Museum

Heather Keith, Opera for All Teaching Artist

This week all the Opera for all school headed to the Chicago History Museum to find
inspiration for the operas they will write in the weeks ahead.  Each student
completed a scavenger hunt that correlated with specific exhibits that highlighted
the strong characters in Chicago history as well as matching up with the social-
emotional topic of bullying.

I was particularly impressed with the student’s reactions to the “Facing Freedom in
America” exhibit, which highlights American conflicts associated with the rights of
all individuals. Every group I walked in the exhibit with was able to sympathize with
the past Americans and their struggles. I specifically enjoyed the interactive
technology used in the exhibit that let each student choose adjectives to represent
what they stand for and then they were able to take a selfie that was then projected
on to the wall with the adjective they picked.

(Chase students standing by the suffragettes exhibit)

We also spent time in the “Sensing Chicago“ exhibit. This exhibit let student’s dress up as a Chicago style hot dog, learn about Comiskey Park, and pedal a high wheel bicycle. Needless to say, the hot dog was a hit!

(Reilly students having fun dressing up as a Chicago style hot dog!)

Along with strong characters, the students also looked at interesting settings. The World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago’s first railroads, and the Chicago Fire all stirred curiosity in the students. They all seemed very excited at the possibility of mixing these historical events and places together to make their own unique operas. 

I can hardly wait to see what they create!

(Chase students hanging out in front of a Chicago fire exhibit)