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Have you ever had a group of fifth graders say, “Opera is so much fun!”? No? Well I have! And it was a direct result of the lessons that we are going to talk about today. I’ve taught opera to my younger students (K-2), and this year I decided to try it with my fourth grade and fifth grade music students– and they loved it. So today, we’re going to talk about 4 exciting ways to teach Les Toreadores from the opera Carmen.
I love to use this piece when learning about opera because it is just so much fun. Listening to the Habañera and tracing the melody is also fun, but Les Toreadores provides so many opportunities for fun activities, which we will talk about below. Then, of course, it is easy to include things like tracing the melody to Habañera. (If you don’t know which piece that is, you can listen to it here. It’s the classic Carmen aria. You’ll know it when you hear it.)
Before we get into it, I want to give you this piece of advice: Go into this with an open mind.
The first time I taught opera to my littles, it was a part of a program my district did. When asked for feedback, I told them how much my students loved the opera unit– and the program director seemed surprised. She said many of the other teachers had the opposite reaction.
The difference? I can’t be sure, but I believe one of the main differences is that I went into the unit thinking, “Opera is fun,” and doing everything I could to instill that.
If you go into teaching ANYTHING with the attitude of, “They are going to hate this,” then they will! Go into it believing that they will love it. And not all of them will, but you’ll be able to win most of them over.
Remember– opera was created for the masses, and still has a lot of the same themes we see in movies and TV shows today– just with a lot more singing.
With that in mind, let’s talk about ways to teach Les Toreadores!
All of this and more is included in my Toreador Form Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers. You don’t need the resource to do the lesson, but it has everything set up for you so all you have to do is put it on the screen (or send it to your kiddos). It includes learning the words, putting actions with the different sections to learn the form, analyzing the form, comparing different versions, rhythm play alongs, and more!
1. Learn the Words + Actions
One obstacle that can make students less inclined to love opera is that most opera is not in English. In particular, most of the classic, really popular operas are not in English.
I have found through the years that the students don’t mind that too much as long as the song is fun and you tell them what it’s about, but being able to sing in English is going to make them enjoy it a bit more.
Thankfully, the educational department at Carnegie Hall has come to the rescue! If you click here, you can find a recording of someone singing the words of the chorus in English. There’s not a lot of them, and you can teach it to the kiddos very easily.
I like to add actions to it because… Actions go with everything, right?
The ones I cam up with are very simple:
- Toreador: wave your cape around
- en garde: Put your sword in the air
- think: Point to your head
- Eyes: Point to eyes
- Promises of love: hands to the heart
Pro tip: On “regard” it gets a little bit high. I tell my students to take a deep breath, then point their finger up to the sky and pretend that the word is coming out of the top of their head– as if someone is pulling it out with a string. It helps!
2. Movement with Scarves
I started this blog in 2017– I cannot believe it’s been that long– and one of my first posts was a Bizet scarf routine. Hint: It was to this song.
This year, when I decided to teach this song, I actually went back and read that post to see what the routine was.
Guess what– it still works!
The original routine was for the younger students with scarves. We would totally have used scarves with my fourth and fifth graders, but we were teaching online during this lesson. So we just used our hands. And they still enjoyed it.
It’s very simple– with the littles, I would spend a good bit of time on it, but with the older students we used it as more of a warm up.
The form to this piece is AABBACA.
The movements are as follows:
- A: March (the second time, we move our hand up and down like the conductor of a marching band in a parade)
- B: Wave hands up for 8 beats, then down 8 beats. Repeat.
- C: Infinity sign starting at the ground. As it gets louder, get higher.
That’s it! Easy peasy.
If you’re looking for a visual, there is a free one in the original post. Full disclosure, it was one of the first things I made, so it is UGLY. But it works. I don’t even ask for your email to download it. You can click here to see the original post.
In the Toreador Google Slides Lesson, it includes these actions, and a slide wehere students can learn about form. And it includes a slide where students can listen to just the A section or the B section or the C section. They can also write about what it sounds like so that they know what it will sound like.
3. Virtual Field Trip
A less ugly visual for teaching Les Toreadores is this Virtual Field Trip! Virtual Field Trips are interactive activities where students learn all about pretty much anything.
You can send the Google Slides activity to the kids (make sure they get a copy so that they can type– there are question slides at the end of each section!), or you can do it together. I like to do it together, and then send them the slides I want them to fill out. This way we can discuss things as we go through.
On the first slide, you have a “map”. You click on the different people or things in order to learn about different aspects of the opera.
I suggest clicking on Bizet first, then on the story. After that, you can do any order– I always let the kids pick.
When you click on Bizet, you learn about what opera is, and about the composer, Georges Bizet.
Then we click on the book to listen to the story in 3 minutes. I love watching their faces as they listen to this, because the story of Carmen is WILD. If you think that opera is boring… Then you have not seen this one. After listening, I ask what they found the most surprising.
After that, I let the kids pick what we click on next. The flag takes you to learn about Spain. Carmen teaches you about the character, and allows you to listen to Maria Callas (love her!) sing the Habañera via an imbedded YouTube video. Don Jose teaches you about Don Jose.
And clicking on Escamillo teaches you about Les Toreadores!
In that section, you’ll learn the words and get the link to listen to the recording I mentioned in the first section. You’ll also watch a video of Escamillo singing this in an opera, so that you get a feel for opera.
This was my first Virtual Field Trip, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my kids loved it. Therefore, I am now obsessed and we will be doing Virtual Field Trips for pretty much every concept ever.
4. Percussion Playalong
After we did all of the things mentioned above, we did a rhythm play along! Kind of.
We used this video from Musication to play along with the song. It was created for kids at home– which is perfect, because my kids were. (Also, I am writing this about two months early, so I’m putting that in past tense hoping that it will be a past tense situation by the time this comes out. We shall see.)
The video features four different patterns, all for items found around your house– spoons, boxes, Tupperware lids, etc.
If you are in the classroom, you can still do this, just assign a percussion instrument to each of the sides. Then you can have students in groups with each group on a different line… It can be a good time. I look forward to trying it this way.
Alright friends, so that is four ways to teach Les Toreadores from the opera Carmen! Each of these are geared to the upper elementary, but could be done with littles as well.
I would like to shout out this episode of Arthur. It features Muffy going to see Carmen with her dad, and being worried about hating it. Binkie teaches her all about opera, and there’s even a dream where she is Carmen– in a kid appropriate way! I love using this with the younger grades, because it features the songs and storyline but with kid friendly words, and it’s just so cute. I would not try this with fifth grade, though.
Don’t forget to grab the Toreador Google Slides Lesson! It is a plug and play (there’s no prep other than putting it on the screen or sending it to your kiddos), and it’s fun and interactive. And your fourth and fifth grade music students will love it.
Have you taught Les Toreadores in your class? Or Carmen? Tell us what ways you’ve taught Les Toreadores from Carmen on your Instagram, and tag me in it so that we can see (@BeccasMusicRoom).