Parlando: The COC Blog


Isis and the Seven Scorpions Tour: Days Four and Five


[This is a guest post by Katherine Semcesen, who is currently travelling with the Xstrata Ensemble Studio school tour along with school tour manager and composer Dean Burry. Katherine Semcesen is the COC associate director, education and outreach.]

I was thrilled (and so was Dean) to wake up the other morning and see a substantial article covering our outreach initiatives gracing the front cover of the Entertainment section of the Sudbury Star.

In four days, Dean and I have visited 12 schools and have delivered 22 workshops reaching a total of 1,320 children in the Sudbury region. It's hard work delivering workshops and they require loads of energy from Dean and me, as each school deserves to get the same high quality experience regardless if it's our first, fifth, or 20th workshop. And there's nothing like getting re-energized with every group we meet!

So what goes into an introduction to opera workshop? After I introduce myself and inform the group that I'm there to give them an opera experience, I often see a lot of puzzled faces and students not really understanding how they are going to "do opera." For my workshops I always begin with the question: "what do you think of when I say the word: 'opera'?" The whole point of this question is to extract whatever preconceived notions or previous knowledge the students have of the art, but also to set up an environment of exploration that encourages communication and eliminates the pressure of having to give "right" or "wrong" answers. It's a great way to establish an even playing ground amongst a diverse group of students. Many students put up their hands to share what they think they know about opera. Most of the students I've had the pleasure of meeting this week have never really listened to operas or experienced a live or recorded performance. With only some guidance from me, they were able to come up with a definition for opera. As one child put it: "So it's basically a story with music." Exactly!

From here I teach the students how to conduct a simple pattern and about how opera singers breathe, how to feel their "built in microphones" (their resonances), and teach them an excerpt from Isis and the Seven Scorpions. There's a part in the opera when the audience is invited to join in and sing the phrase: "I take away your sting." Why not teach it to the students ahead of time? I have a surprise for the cast though: because opera is about acting and moving to music in addition to singing, I encouraged each group that I worked with to come up with an gesture to "activate" their phrase. Each school group came up with a different movement. I'm looking forward to seeing if they are brave enough to do the movement when they see the performance next week!

My workshop continues with a physical exploration of the story. The students have really taken to the ancient myth of Isis. Depending on class dynamics, I get them to create poses for the various characters in the opera individually or in a group. Hands down, their favourite has been the transformation into a scorpion. This exercise encourages the students to use their creativity to express emotions and characteristics of the characters in the opera with their bodies. This activity builds non-verbal communication skills in a fun way!

We end the hour with a question and answer period and I never feel like I have enough time to get to all of the questions. I'd like to say that every child walks out of the workshop in love with opera, but it's not always the case. If we've planted a seed that grows an individual's interest or appreciation of the arts, or effectively communicated the value of the arts, then we've done our job. My favourite responses have included students coming out of a workshop and thanking their principal for school and a boy today thanking me for picking him to demonstrate how to act like Osiris because "older people think I just act silly. Today I felt more important." And that makes it all worth it.

Posted by Katherine Semcesen / in Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour / comments (0) / permalink


Isis and the Seven Scorpions Tour: Day Three


[This is a guest post by school tour manager and composer Dean Burry, who is currently travelling with the Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour. Dean Burry composed the children's operas Isis and the Seven Scorpions (currently touring) and The Brothers Grimm

My stay in Sudbury continues to be an eye-opening experience. I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning (though snow is apparently on the way) and was picked up by my driver for the day (ooh la la) Dick Perras. Dick is a retired music teacher from the area and we really hit it off. He had to drive me to the town of Levack, which is about 30 minutes outside of Sudbury, and proved to be an excellent tour guide. Apparently, Sudbury is built in the middle of a giant meteor crater which is why there is such a high concentration of mineral resources here. We drove across the centre of the crater and you could see the rim in the distance. In the centre of the crater is very flat and fertile farmland, which is a real contrast to the rest of the region. Dick and I had a great conversation about fishing, setting rabbit snares and hunting partridge. He told me that this was not a conversation he imagined having with a Toronto opera composer. I told him I was from Newfoundland, and then it all made sense to him. 

My schools were again very welcoming. It feels so good to be giving these kids their first opera experience. Doing workshops like this for young people sometimes feels like a performance in itself. As in Isis and the Seven Scorpions, I have to find a way to engage both the kindergarten students (be a bit of a clown) and the sixth graders (play it cool and laid back). I do a little exercise where I ask a child to pretend to read a blank letter while I play various samples of mood music in the background to demonstrate how emotion is conveyed through music. Today I asked five-year-old Emma to help me out. Not sure she knew what a "letter" was, but she did a great job. Another very rewarding day. 

Cool and Laid Back Clown signing off.

Photo © Dean Burry 2011

Posted by Dean Burry / in Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour / comments (0) / permalink


Adventures in Honey Harvesting

Beekeeper Fred Davis updates us on the honeybees that live on the roof the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts:

A lot has happened since my last entry in August. The very hot summer months got me thinking about how to help the bees stay cool. I inserted chopsticks between the honey supers and the deep brood supers. I hoped this would improve air flow in and around the colonies. I noticed that the colonies were not in direct sunlight for very long throughout the day and until late in the afternoon. That was great during those hot months but now it's time to think about keeping them protected from the harsh winds this fall and winter. 


Posted by Gianna Wichelow / in FSCPA Honeybees / comments (0) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



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