Making Curriculum Pop

Attached is my Project for TTP 2009!

As a music education major and a former performer on the opera stage, I have a huge stake in keeping the art form I love alive. Although Opera is chugging along pretty well with older generations, we need to start thinking of ways to get the younger generations interested. I feel many music educators do not know how to approach Opera - an art form usually associated with many stodgy stereotypes. In using familiar forms like movies, television and contemporary music, I hope to show students opera is not as foreign as they think. So many movies use Opera in their stories and viewers do not know it! Here we try to break away from the normal textbook lesson and step it up a notch.

Again this ties to Mr. Kist's question - "What can you say in music, visual art or video that you cannot say in print?"

The Unit I created lasts for three days:

An intro to Opera and its similarities/differences to Plays and Musicals for Day 1 - I wanted to get a scope of what the students think about when they hear the word "opera". Most typical answers were put into a table. I thought I would use existing media for my responses to their answers - clips from You Tube that would perhaps make them think a bit differently. All of these clips (except 1) are familiar to the students. I'm particularly proud of the clip from Moonstruck - "She was coughin' her brains out and she STILL had to keep singin'!" I also wanted the students to create a table/chart of all the similarities and differences Operas have with Musicals and Plays. Many high schools read Shakespeare plays and most put on a Musical or two during the school year so they are familiar with their respective formats.

Important vocabulary words for Day 2 - a run through basic Opera vocabulary words including the voice parts, musicians, technical aspects and creation. I've included a few activities that lead up to watching a clip of an opera and identifying what they have learned. I suggested Julie Taymor's version of Mozart's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) because her production is total eye candy - very spacey and meant to grab your attention. If you're in the NYC area, you can catch it live at the Metropolitan Opera next season where you can watch the abridged version sung in English or the full version sung in the original German (with subtitles).

A focus on Standard Operas, their modern counterparts and the issues they share for Day 3 - This can be extended for many more days depending on how many standard (or not so standard) operas one would like to use after Day Three. I begin with probably the best video an Opera educator can have in their arsenal: All the Great Operas in 10 Minutes. It was used when I toured with the Minnesota Opera's Education Outreach Program and the students loved it. It's entirely done with papier mache puppets and they even keep score of all those who have died! From there, we begin to focus on individual operas and their modern counterparts. So many contemporary storylines can be traced back to Operas! I use Moulin Rouge and the opera La Traviata as one example. The issues some Operas present are also great catalysts to beginning discussions - female roles in the 19th century take center stage when discussing Moulin Rouge and La Traviata. Through this form of music, one can create lessons in History, Literature and so much more. So many interdisciplinary roads to be taken!

For a concluding assessment project I suggested the students create an "Opera" of their own on video. They can be given a set story or choose storylines that interest them and set it to music. They can lipsync or they can use music to convey subtext/inner monologues (lots of opera arias are just that: the character expressing what's going on in their heads). Each story must tackle some sort of issue discussed in class and should demonstrate some of the vocabulary words covered in Day 2.

With the use of Media (Movies, TV, You Tube, etc.) one can breakdown any misunderstandings and questions about Opera thereby making it more accessible. I think the biggest wall we hit is the alienating feeling many get when Opera is mentioned - it seldom has been advertised as something everyone can enjoy. But this is not true! EVERYONE can enjoy Opera and with this Unit, I hope to development a stepping stone for young students.

The Unit leaves room for expansion or subtraction - it was developed to be as flexible as needed (ex. add a section about the origins of opera).

Special thanks to my Group (The Random Group I think we were called) for all their amazing feedback!

Hope to see you at the Opera,


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Hi Jen,
I was really glad to be in your "Random Group" to hear all about your project. It's a very exciting project that certainly allows students to share their existing knowledge and apply it to what you aim for them to learn about this subject. Although I am a fan of the opera, I would have personally found it difficult to develop a lesson plan that de-mystifies this art form so wholly. But you have tackled many of the large points of the topic so gracefully as a way to enhance student learning. It would be amazing to hear the outcome of what might happen in its implementation!
Hi Jennifer. I also am an opera singer (like you I also apprenticed with various opera companies with their educational outreach programs). Last May, I graduated from TC Columbia with and Ed.D in music education. I design performance/teaching artist curricula to introduce opera and opera stars to young audiences from K to 12. Your workshop is so on the money! I have thoroughly enjoyed going through the lesson plans. I have been so busy writing and performing my scripts that I have not had much time thinking about lesson plans to accompany my shows. With your "spot on" curriculum, I can now direct teachers, (especially high school teachers) in your direction before I perform at the schools. THANK YOU!!!
Hi Lori (or should I say Dr. Mirabal):

I'm glad you found my lesson plans helpful and am happy to meet a fellow TC Diva! I would love to assist in anyway to promote this great medium in schools and would gladly speak to any teachers about it.

Happy singing! :)



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