MinterTom  Jun.27.2011 0 Comments

This WNO year ended with an incredible presentation program of the various projects our partnership schools had created. Over the course of two days, over 15 schools performed their works (3rd, 4th and 5th graders, and our first Kindergarten class), to the delight and engagement of their peers, parents, and supporters. The pieces were diverse, hugely imaginative, ambitious, and executed enthusiastically by the students who had created them! The proceedings were ‘hosted’ by Ben Eisler, ABC-7/WJLA-TV. Not only is Ben a terrific community reporter, he also has a background in opera –and, as it happened, proposed to his fiancé at a performance of Tosca! In the moments of ‘change over’, Ben captivated the assembled students, engaging them with questions as to what they enjoyed about music, and opera in particular; he offered many of them the chance to sing from the audience, and, at one point, joined in with a stunning rendition of Danny Boy. This year’s WNO Schools Showcase was an incredible capstone to an incomparable program. Its handover, to the Kennedy Center Education department, is in active process, and my hopes grow that the crossover will create new opportunities out of the challenges involved. Flexibility has been a hallmark of WNO’s commitment to engaging with the schools and students they wished to serve; this past May, the 9th grade class at Cesar Chavez, Parkside campus, were facilitated to attend a performance of WNO’s production of Madama Butterfly. Out of this trip to the Kennedy Center, and the students’ first time at an opera, came an opportunity to work with them in creating their own ‘sequel scene’ to Puccini’s work; the project, entitled Trouble, was developed entirely out of the ‘wondering’, by the students, of what kind of life Butterfly’s son would have after his mother’s suicide, and his father’s determination to take him out of the Japanese culture he had been born to. The classes that came out of this were a platform to these students’ fearlessness around dealing with issues of ‘acculturation’, ‘abandonment’, ‘mixed race challenges’, ‘cultural assumptions’, ‘isolation’, ‘self-empowerment’, and ‘self-determination’. This also facilitated a journey into creating an operatic scene with two international Hip-Hop artists, Zack MCGann and Gabriel Benn. Working with the students they created a ‘sound-scape’ that was set against specific melodic reoccurrences out of Puccini’s work, refracted through current musical language, rhythms and articulations; students used their own musical references and identified words, such as “mad; mysterious; fury; warmth; guilt”, to inform the texture of the ‘sound-scape’ they wished to have as backdrop to the action of their scene. The sessions, after the creation of the ‘script/libretto’ and the ‘sound-scape’, then included the participation of professional artists, Martin Sola, Juyce Lundy and Keith Craig, who sang the characters of ‘Trouble’, ‘Suzuki’ and ‘Pinkerton’. Their work, in fleshing out the character details of this scene, was unique, as it needed to be done without a traditional ‘music sheet’, or score that they could study; they leaned into the ‘sound-scape’, immersed themselves in the details of the action against the rhythms, and language of the music, to establish vocal lines and melodies to both sing and declaim. This project was astonishing in its breadth of detail and challenge, and was also the first time such collaboration, of intra-musical disciplines, was tried by WNO and a DC school. The result was created in a total of 6 classroom sessions, and presented after only 4, 2 hour rehearsal periods! Everyone was pitching in at the top of their game, and entirely motivated by the drive of the students. The piece, Trouble, was included in WNO’s Showcase event on the 8th June, and repeated at the school, on the 10th June, allowing the creating class of Cesar Chavez to present their work to their peers. Continuing this kind of process utilizes synergy that will keep this art form relevant, and inculcate a true sense of ‘ownership’ in the generations ahead.

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