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San Diego Opera’s Words And Music Program

Kids Write Operas

Evening Edition

Above: The San Diego Opera's Words and Music program has kids writing operas. KPBS Arts Reporter Beth Accomando went to a rehearsal last month to see what it's all about.

The San Diego Opera's Words and Music program has kids writing operas. Check out the video of the rehearsal of their "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

It's a hot summer morning in Barrio Logan. Students are gathering at the Barrio Logan College Institute for the San Diego Opera's educational outreach program Words and Music. Cynthia Stokes welcomes the students and the professional opera singers as they arrive.

Aired 9/17/12 on KPBS News.

The San Diego Opera's Words and Music program has kids writing operas. Check out the video of the rehearsal of their "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

"What this is of course is the Words an Music program of the San Diego Opera," says Nick Reveles, Geisel Director of Education and Outreach. "And the kids here at Barrio Logan College Institute chose Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney to set into a musical theater piece or a quasi opera."

"San Diego Opera launched the Words and Music program in 2001 and the idea really was to create a program for students who generally weren't finding success in traditional ways in the classroom," says Stokes, Curriculum Specialist and Teaching Artist at San Diego Opera.

Jose Cruz is the executive director of the Barrio Logan College Institute, one of the new and non-traditional organizations the opera works with to reach students.

"Barrio Logan College Institute is an after school program for disadvantaged kids, local disadvantaged kids, in the neighborhood to prepare them to be the first in their family to go to college and what's unique about the program is that it starts in third grade and actually extends till college completion. So we continue to work with the kids till they finish college."

Reveles says, "It's important for the opera to involve kids and to involve anybody in the process of creating an opera in order to understand it from the inside out."

Kids write operas and then work with professional singers during a rehearsal. Here students provide feedback to actors at Barrio Logan College Institute.

Katie Euphrat

Above: Kids write operas and then work with professional singers during a rehearsal. Here students provide feedback to actors at Barrio Logan College Institute.

"And so what we did was we developed a program that would deal with music, reading, writing, adaptation, and also helping kids think about what it's like to be an artist to actually stand in the shoes of an artist, particularly an opera librettist and a composer," adds Stokes.

Stephanie Sabin is the Composer in Residence and Musical Director for the Words and Music Program. She joins Stokes at the Barrio Logan College Institue. "I teach the kids how to write the music to the libretto that she's teaching them to write."

"So during a residency that's usually 11-12 weeks long. Students will compose, and write all the lyrics, all the music, every single note to an original opera based on a familiar story that they know," explains Stokes.

FOurteen-year-old Ana Hernandez is one of the student:" It's really fun, you learn a lot. Basically 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' is kind of like journal entries that Greg writes, Greg's the main character."

"You are witnessing the rehearsal, the wonderful rehearsal when the singers come and meet the students an the students get to hear these voices, professional voices, sing their work," says Sabin.

"They rehearse everything we wrote and then they ask us questions, like do you want to make this louder? So we just tell them what we want, what sounds better," states Hernandez.

"We like them to observe adults performing their work for them," says Reveles, "So that they understand that there's another level of creativity, and that it interpretation. Is the adult performer singing and acting the lines that they've written and the music that they've created in the way that they intended."

For Stokes "the key idea here is that these young people create a work of art and they think about artistic intention, and about how a work of art isn't a work of art until someone actually views it."

"And that anything, virtually, can be sung. And that singing a scene lifts it up to a different place," enthuses Reveles.

"It's a fun way of working, they're writing, they're composing, they're using their own ideas so a child who traditionally will be the kind of kid who will have their head down on a table with their hoodie over their head, is the kid who's not just sitting up but who's participating, not just participating but suddenly leading the group," Stokes states.

Saira De La Rosa, 13-years-old, agrees that it's fun: "I normally don't participate a lot when Stephanie got here she introduced me to everyone and I actually started talking to everyone and started getting involved more and even my coordinator noticed that. And I think it's like really good."

"I like how you can actually express yourself, and put yourself in the point of the character's view and you get to see and you get to see your own character come to life," says student Ignacio Reyes.

"We work really hard to make sure that we're supporting not only the visual and performing arts standards of the city schools and the school districts that we work in but also standards like literacy, history, social science, we try and involve little pieces of all of those standards in what we do with the kids," says Reveles

Again Jose Cruz: "What we really like about the partnership with the San Diego Opera is that it brings relevance to the academic support piece."

Sabin adds: "I think it has a nice sense of where the boundaries are , breaking through the boundaries, what else can we teach, how much can we cover, without being overwhelming to the kids for the program and still having a sense of accomplishment and then to meet the California Standard, as well , the music standard."

The next Words and Music program will adapt John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and starts Monday at Eastlake High School.

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