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Opera in the Schools - A Success Story

March 25, 2011

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with some wonderful middle students at the Luther Burbank School District in San Jose California. With the support of Ms. Becki Cohn-Vargas, the superintendent of the school, the residency was made possible and was a project of Opera Cultura. The classroom teachers, a devoted group of educators, were extremely supportive of the project and helped in a variety of ways. I served as composer and Carla Pantoja (actor, teaching artist ) served as director. The students were asked to do a multitude of things, including writing poems, composing music, acting, drawing and much more.

The primary goal was for the students to discover their own inner strength and learn a bit about the world of opera. It's not easy to be a middle school student and for some of them, they have their own particular challenges. We asked them to have conversations with their families about how one of their family members overcame an obstacle. Their stories were revealing, inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking. For me, it was truly one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as an artist.

The residency culminated with over 150 middle students performing their own work. For many of them, it was the first time performing for others. What struck me, was their ability to do something that takes most professional artists many days and weeks to prepare. They worked together, pulled together, and confirmed to me the strength and ability of young people. I was left in awe.

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A Poem by Joey

One of the outcomes of the residency was discovering how much talent existed at the school. In the brief time that I was with them, I found dancers, actors, writers, composers, and poets. One young man, a middle student, came to me with some of his work. He had spontaneously written a poem. It was evident that this was not his first work and it was clear he possessed great talent at such a young age. Below, is just an excerpt of it.

While the world is a mess,
I lay here and rest.
While the world burns,
I stand here and whirl.

While the sun dies,
I look to the skies.
While the earth rots,
My heart flies.

While my life goes,
I go with the flow.
While the world stops,
I stop and drop.

While the world ends,
I put down my head.
By Joey