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Original opera teaches creativity, cooperation
by LOUISE R. SHAW
Apr 02, 2014 | 1235 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THIRD GRADERS AT ORCHARD ELEMENTARY perform the final number in their original opera before a captivated crowd.
THIRD GRADERS AT ORCHARD ELEMENTARY perform the final number in their original opera before a captivated crowd.
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NORTH SALT LAKE - Like every opera, this one was full of conflict and drama.

Unlike almost every opera, this one had a happy ending.

This opera was the creation of Ann Mathews’ third grade class at Orchard Elementary.

It was the story of Lego people, Ninja royalty and ghosts vying for living space in the White House.

The libretto was written by the students themselves, who also created the set, worked out the costumes, rehearsed and performed it.

Not every third-grade class writes and performs opera, but more have the chance to do so now, with the help of the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre.

Utah Festival Opera, based in Logan, was founded and is directed by Michael Ballam. It is the organization behind УOpera by Children, which also has support from the Utah State Legislature and the Utah State Office of Education. 

An educational outreach program, it matches interested schools with professional musicians and artists at no charge to the schools.

Nancy Griffin was one of the experts behind Orchard’s operatic undertaking, an arranger who put their story to music.

That too started with the students.

After receiving their libretto, Griffin traveled to North Salt Lake to hear the children sing the melodies they had in mind for their stories. 

She recorded them, then returned to Logan and, with her piano hooked to a computer, wrote down the melodies and accompaniment, then burned a CD with vocals, another with just accompaniment and a rehearsal track.

This is the 31st such opera Griffin has arranged this season, with each one representing about 20 hours of work that is paid for through Festival Opera grants.

Griffin is enthusiastic about the educational program because, she said, it not only teaches core curriculum standards, but helps kids think outside the box.

УThe kids get to be creative, they learn how to communicate - to tell a story, and they learn how to cooperate with each other in order to perform, she said.

Performances add yet another УC benefit she said, in helping students develop confidence as well.

Prior to a class participating in Opera by Children, the teacher undergoes training on the best way to facilitate the process.

УThere are three rules, said Griffin. УEveryone participates, no one gets hurt and it must be the children’s own work.

The last piece is sometimes the most difficult for a teacher, she said, but they need to Уlet go and let the children do it.

More than the product, it is the process that benefits the students, said Griffin.

Orchard’s Mathews said the opera experience helps Уget the creative juices going,Ф and helped the students Уreally work together.

Students said they brainstormed ideas, worked out plot problems and voted to resolve conflicting ideas.

Because most students wanted to be Ninja princes or princesses, they held auditions for those positions.

Students Gabi, Mia and Aubrey said they had fun doing the opera and liked the chance to sing and dance. Though they’d never been to a professional opera performance, each said they’d like to someday.

As with all opera, the entire performance was set to music and entirely memorized.

УThat’s the magic of it, said Griffin, after watching the students’ final performance. УIt’s hard to recite four to five pages of story, but when it’s set to music, everyone knows every word.

 
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