It Wasn’t A Circus

MS Opera Blog

By Bo Baird

When a towering circus tent arose from a heap of canvas and elephants paraded down Main Street, normal life used to stop dead in small towns. Barking dogs and blaring bands added to the pandemonium. Recently, our Middle School recess had that same air as I stood at the tire swing. Children tore past me, not to the soccer game but to find a seat in the grandstands. I’d expected a handful of children. Instead, more spectators packed the stands than do for soccer or lacrosse games. What brought the throng? An opera. Not Carmen or The Magic Flute. And there was no  Pavarotti or Beverly Sills. They came to see the debut of Mother Nature, written and performed by an intrepid troupe of fourth grade girls. With shaking notes, the narrator began. I scanned faces of the third, fourth, and fifth graders, trying to read their reactions. Not a whisper. Enraptured students leaned forward as Mother Nature tried to calm the sibling rivalry between the four seasons who couldn’t agree when each should visit the planet. Then laughter rippled through the audience upon hearing the sharp whines in the song “I Want My Turn, I Want My Turn.” (They understood sibling rivalry!) What also kept students  from the call of the Supernova and the nearby soccer game was the talent of these young girls. “They had really good voices,” commented two fifth graders. This troupe was also courageous. Performing in front of your peers is hard enough but a soccer field has serious disadvantages when your opera calls for costume changes. Without any hesitation, “Spring” raced behind the grandstands to pull a skirt on over her pants. Nothing was going to get in the way of this show. So where did the idea of an opera come from? A year ago the precocious spark behind the opera had tried to drum up interest in a play but it didn’t catch on with her classmates. Her second try about a witch was scrubbed before it opened. There wasn’t enough plot to carry the story and back they went to the concept stage. This time the girls hit pay dirt with Mother Nature. Their previous stumbles has taught them some lessons; “It’s better if you have more dramatic problems. The big tantrum was a very big hit.” Their creative process was remarkable; “We’re not professionals so we gathered everyone together to figure out characters and themes. Then with improv and interplay we figured out the script.” This story captures the essence of both independent learners and responsible citizens. The spirit and determination of these performers is incredible—persisting  to write and perform an opera—and then risk all by performing it for their peers. Just as poignant is the caring and supportive nature of their audience of Middle School children. It’s hard to imagine many other school environments where students would feel safe enough to sing a classmate’s composition a cappella. The environments we create at school and home set the stage for whether children feel confident enough to take risks. When they do, their learning takes off. At times I feel getting the right answer is over-rated. Working hard and taking the risk are what really count.

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