It’s January. At my elementary school that means opera time. For the past two years, the L.A. Opera has sent representatives to teach our fifth grade opera.
Before you even begin to think, how boring! Imagine 65 ten and eleven year olds on stage performing an opera! This event has become so important to our school that the students in younger grades can’t wait to get to fifth grade to have this experience.
In January, fifth grade kids study the opera. Then they begin to practice. They memorize lines. They learn to sing the songs. They learn where to stand and how to act, where to put their arms, and how to move on stage. Members of the L.A. Opera perform the major roles. Our kids make up the chorus. Then entire school gets to see the final performance. It’s always electrifying and magical to see.
It always makes me wonder if any of our kids will end up pursuing a career in opera. Of course that’s not the point of the experience. But I think, if it weren’t for that exposure most of our students would never even consider the opera. They wouldn’t know to think of it or to imagine themselves doing it.
I wonder if we do enough in school to expose our kids to things they wouldn’t otherwise know about. This is why I love career days and Read Across America Day when people come to read aloud to kids, celebrate books, and share some of their own lives.
I feel strongly that it’s our duty as parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends of any child, to share unique experiences, art shows, musicals, poetry readings, cultural events, nature trails, museums, concerts…. the list is endless. Maybe that child, whose hand we hold is the next Picasso, Mama Cass, John James Audubon. But without that exposure….
Several years ago, we had the opportunity to take our first graders on a field trip to see a student-friendly version of an opera. This poem was inspired by that experience.
Ode to the Opera
and to six year olds…
one six year old student arrives in a clip on tie
tucked under his three button vest
another tiptoes in glittery shoes
dresses, tights, button down shirts, frilly hair clips
on the bus they ask and answer each other…
is Carmen real? why does she think she’s all that?
you forgot how beautiful she is
i don’t know Italian but the music
is sad in my body
Madame Butterfly breaks my heart
in my ear i heard the songs
while i was sleeping
when then we are seated,
in velvet chairs,
sighs as the lights go down,
hands clap to the beat,
voices chorus, Bravo!
and all the way home,
the little girl with the curly
hair who cannot remember anything
not math facts, not reading books
or letter sounds
not spelling words,
or even playground rules,
hums Carmen’s song
about being free