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If you have been reading my blog, then you have hear me mention that my Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders spent a lot of time this year on opera. We use the Musical Explorer curriculum (currently available in Savannah and New York City, and I heard rumors that they are trying to get it elsewhere). Every semester, students learn about three styles of music, and then they go to a concert. This means that by the time they finish, they have gone to 6 concerts and learn 18 styles of music.
Which is awesome!
I really cannot sing its praises enough.
Anyway… this semester was Ringshout, Opera, and Blues.
And we spent a lot of time on opera.
You can read about our Creative Movement with Scarves lesson here, or our Bizet Scarf Routine here. (Do you see a theme? I truly love scarves in the music room!)
You can click on the picture to buy some for your music room!
This lesson is all about the opera stories.
Now, opera stories can be a little bit on the ridiculous side. Some of them are reeeeally complicated (Can you say Magic Flute?). Or inappropriate (Can you say Carmen?). This made teaching the opera stories really complicated.
So here are a few ideas to help out…
Tell the Story Around the Aria
The two piece the students were supposed to learn were from Norma and La Traviata.
Have you ever tried explaining either of those to Kindergarteners? It’s difficult.
Instead, I just told them the story right around the aria. I basically just explained what they were saying.
For example, with La Traviata, instead of trying to explain the whole thing in its ridiculousness, I just talked about the aria.
We watched this video. First, I told them to try to decide how she was feeling by her facial expressions. I stopped it every once and a while and ask. I like this video because she looks happy while she sings, and then upset when the man is singing.
Afterward, I told them what was going on—that she is talking about wanting to be free, so she is happy. The man wants her to marry him, but she does not want to marry him. This is why she looks upset when he is singing.
And that is all they really needed to know about that.
First story down!
Pick a Beginning, Middle, and End
The next of the opera stories we learned was The Magic Flute. Now, the Magic Flute is another one of those operas that is just kind of all over the place. It is complicated, and there are a ton of things going on.
I did something terrible—I only told them about the first act.
The first and second acts are just so different that it was too difficult to try to get it all in there.
We watched this video of the Papageno/Pagagena duet. They thought that it was HILARIOUS. They laughed so hard at the part where they were singing “Pa… pa pa….. pa… pa pa…” I got a wonderful video on my Instagram of some of my first graders singing along with it.
Then we talked about how all stories have a beginning, middle, and end. In this one, the beginning is when Princess Pamina gets captured. In the middle, Papageno and the Prince Tamino go and look for her. At the end, they find her!
Yes, I know. Only one act and extremely simplified. But that’s what Kindergarteners need.
After the video and the discussion, we did this coloring sheet which I got for free on Crayola’s website. I cut them out ahead of time (you can have the kids do it if you are feeling adventurous), and we drew pictures of the beginning, middle, and end. The boxes are pretty small, so I did have the older kids write “beginning, middle, and end”, but I did not have them write what was happening.
You can get the coloring page here.
If you want a writing connection, you could give them a piece of paper and have them write a sentence or two for each part.
My main focus was “Opera is fun!” rather than “We need to know exactly how The Magic Flute goes.”
Compare and Contrast
Pick an opera that has a common story, like Cinderella. Talk to the students about what an opera is (People acting out a story by singing all the time). Then tell them sometimes when a composer writes an opera, they use a story people know.
Watch a video from the opera Cinderella. Then watch a video from the Disney movie Cinderella.
Make a Compare/Contrast chart. You could do it on the board, or have them do it individually or as groups.
Depending on the videos you pick, they will say different things. I would focus on differences like setting—opera is live, so the setting cannot change as much as a cartoon. Vocal quality—they will probably say the opera sounds “bigger” or “louder”.
Also read Free K-2 Music Lesson: Animal Form
Read a Book
We did not do this one, but it is probably the best option.
Read a book about an opera, or with the same story. Here are some examples with The Magic Flute.
After you read the book, watch a few videos from the opera.
Extension: Have them act it out! You can read the book, or have a student read it, and have the characters move around to act out the story. You can pause and listen to the arias as they come up in the story. (This would be great for older kids.)
You can click on these books to check them out.
Watch a Video
I was flipping through the channels one day and hear the music from Carmen. I stopped, and realized that it was an episode of Arthur!
In this 15 min. video, Muffy and her dad are going to the opera. She thinks that she won’t like it, but after she tries it, she does.
The great thing is they use real music! There is one scene where they change the plot to make it kid-friendly and have the characters singing in English. At the end, they are snippets of the real music from Carmen.
We watched it and the kids loved it! And since it is shorter, it didn’t take up too much of the time.
Check it out here.
And a Bulletin Board Idea….
For this month, I did an opera bulletin board. I made three of the coloring sheets with the school’s poster maker (in other words, I didn’t spend any money). I wrote the sentence that corresponds with the beginning, middle, and end. Then I put it up along with some of the kid’s drawings. the drawings are form the Crayola website which is above under “Beginning, Middle, and End”.
I added the title and the answer to the question “What is opera?”. And I wrote that we were doing The Magic Flute.
How did it turn out?
My opera lessons were huge hits.
When we watched the Arthur video, I told them “Some people think that opera is boring, and they don’t like it!”
You should have seen their shocked little faces. They gasped and said “No!”
I said, “Yes. Do you think opera is boring?”
“No! Opera is fun!”
This is a big deal in any school, but in my urban, inner city school, it was an even bigger deal.
What opera strategies do you use? Do your kids keep an open mind? Let me know in the comments!