Teachers Go to Opera Summer Camp

By Luisa Rodriguez

Last week, The Atlanta Opera, hosted training for local educators called MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! Led by Opera America associates Neil Ginsberg, a composer and music educator, and Clifford Brooks, longtime Opera America employee and curriculum consultant, the training explored ways in which teachers could foster student interest in opera.

The week began with an overview of opera, given by Clifford Brooks. During this overview, he offered some very helpful explanations about why opera is relevant to the 21st century classroom. He said, “Opera has a direct relationship to the lives and learning of all people–the basic story-telling techniques are all the same.”

Throughout the week, Mr. Brooks offered valuable tools and information for teaching opera to students who may be disinterested or perceive opera as boring. The participants did an in depth study on two operas, Hansel and Gretel and Carmen. Various lesson plans and instructional resources were offered as participants worked their way through the Opera America curriculum of Hansel and Gretel,

and Carl Orff’s orchestrations of the music of Carmen!

As the teacher participants of MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! made their way through these educational gems, they grew more and more excited about teaching opera to their students. Some of the most valuable resources Mr. Brooks provided were materials for reflecting the learning and attitudes of students throughout the opera teaching process—these include objectives, questionnaires, hands-on and written assessment activities, materials to encourage parental involvement, and suggestions for compiling a progress portfolio.

With these educational aids, teachers can feel secure in advocating to principals, parents, and community members who may be wary of opera’s importance in the classroom. Learning will be measurable and impactful because anyone can look at the materials and see how students have grown.

A major focal point of the workshop was composing a short, original operatic work with the participants. Guided by composer Neil Ginsberg, this process was meant to model and inspire the work that teachers will do this year in composing with their students.

The group dove in on Monday afternoon, first discussing the components of opera, and what makes a good story.

Many ideas for librettos were suggested, and by Wednesday morning the group settled on Johnny Appleseed: The Opera, and the music composition process began almost immediately!

In order to compose quickly, the group broke into smaller groups and came back together to demonstrate their work. Sometimes, the composers began with complete lyrics to an aria or ensemble before the music was composed, and sometimes the musical ideas were formed first. Mr. Ginsberg emphasized that the process can be adapted based on the strengths and weaknesses of the teacher, students, and the resources that are available. For example, some of the participants have experience in the Orff method and plan to create using Orff instruments, but others would rather use piano.

By Friday morning, the participants began staging the opera.

The opera was debuted in the rehearsal hall of The Atlanta Opera Center. Stay tuned to our blog for a video of the entire original opera!

Although MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! is over, the most important work begins. Over the next school year, participants will partner with the Atlanta Opera’s Community Engagement Department to achieve their goals in the classroom. Participating teachers will have access to staff and consultants as they carry out opera education in four Atlanta area schools. The Atlanta Opera is proud to facilitate the growth, enrichment, and interest in opera to hundreds of students around the greater Atlanta area!

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