Today’s teacher is Sarah, a lyric mezzo-soprano. We met her in the winter program, when that group was learning Chili Caliente at the Canadian Opera Company. This group is, for probably the first time, going to participate in a warm up.
Good morning everyone! “Good morning miss Sarah!” The introductions begin. Clear, loud voices. They pass their names to each other and learn a clapping game to think, do and react very quickly. I’d lose at this game, because I can’t read those nametags from so far away. But Amber passes off to Kaleel and he looks at his nametag trying to figure out who to pass off to. Some of them are shy, unwilling to mispronounce names. Tia passes to Jesse, Jesse to Nesta. Amber to Kalessa. We’re going to get to know these kids a little more. They come from a different group of schools from the Winter group. How are they going to do? It’s SPRING! And they’re grade sixes! The weather is going to warm up, and it’s going to be harder to concentrate. They go through the game quicker this time, then they have to go again, two passes at a time. This time there is laughter. Less shyness, more eye contact. Ears and eyes open.
They’re learning The Habanera from Carmen. One rule of opera. If your name is the title of the opera, chances are, you’re gonna die.
After she demonstrates a little Carmen, Sarah takes us through the first notes. She explains what semi-tones are. She’s teaching them the English translation first. These kids are picking up the notes and words remarkably quickly.
One of them said it sounded like a song from Pink Floyd’s the Wall.
Then they learned it in Bisset’s French. “We’re going for the high note.” The money note, and they go there, no problem. Sarah is visibly pleased. “You are great singers. I’m so excited.”
She takes them through the motivation for The Habanera. “Why do people sing songs? What the message in this piece? What is love? Love is free. I am a free spirit!” It’s an empowering song. When they sing through it again, she applauds and tells them, “Bravi tuti!”
Lunch! Okay we’re back! Now the kids are going to write their own version of Twinkle Little Star, as an Aria. With an objective. They form groups. They get a piece of paper and some pencils. They pick their own groups. I watch one girl take charge and pick her group by inviting them.
This is one of my favorite things to watch: kids making up lyrics. They always surprise me. This time they are making a scene and they’ll act it out for us. They’re using information they found at Casa Loma as research for their mini opera.
They sing their songs with movements, a little story and then there’s feedback from the rest of the class. Lots of songs about gargoyles! And one about electricity. I particularly liked the Gargoyles that ate a kid by dragging him into their clutch. They are not so shy now. They’re so full of energy after what they’ve achieved that it’s hard for them to focus on singing again. Miss Sarah reminds them that as a cast, they have a responsibility for each other. One of the kids asks, “Can you break glass?” Sarah answers, “No, I’m a mezzo.”
Sarah showed them how to bow and curtsey after a performance. “Did I shine my shoes today?” My fourth laugh out loud moment.
This is their third class together, and they’re doing so well. They point to themselves and say, “I’m EXCELLENT!” Sarah reminded us in our closing (reflecting) circle that as artists we are doing important work. Calling into emotions and feelings deep inside us and the people we sing to. The five words the students will teach to their classes will be: Opera, Symphony, Aria, Libretto, and composers Bizet and Beethoven.
The have something to take home besides their new knowledge. A CD with opera arias. “Mozart’s Magical Fantasy.” The gift of song.