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Magical, Lyrical Lessons

The Enterprise Newspaper
Reprinted by permission of the St. Mary’s Enterprise

Magical, Lyrical Lessons

by Angelea Hoogerheide

“Now, when someone asks you if you know about opera, you can say, Not only do I know about opera, I can sing it in German!” proclaimed Yvette Lewis to a group of anxious third-graders who beamed after successfully mastering lyrics in a foreign language from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Sitting crossed-legged on the floor of the music room, the young students focused their eyes up on the woman behind the piano who guided them through lines from Mozart’s tale of fantasy. Little lips pursed, the children practiced sounding out the hard German consonants. “Das klinget, sö herlich. Das klinget, so schoe’n,” they echoed in response to their teacher with the crystal clear voice.

Having earlier sung those lyrics in English, “Hear the jingling, so splendid! Hear the jingling, so clear,” the third-graders giggled as Lewis appealed to them to sing softly, convincing them that softness gave the music a sweeter quality.

Concentration was on the brow of each face as students also took turns playing the xylophone. Coordination was at hand while tiny fingers gripping mallets pounded out notes in sync with the songs. There was a reason to grasp the lessons with precision: at the end of the week students would have a sharing session and show their peers in other grades what they have learned.

“The Magic Flute” is a celebration of wisdom, honesty and brotherhood tied in the magic of dreams and imagination. It tells the story of a brave, noble prince and his birdcatcher friend, armed only with magic bells and an enchanted flute, who set out on a musical quest to rescue a beautiful princess and find true love.

Lewis, opera singer and artist in residence at Lexington Park Elementary School, has spent the last week teaching each grade level the basics of the operatic art form. Designed to offer experience and exposure with one opera per grade, the week-long workshops are funded in part by the Maryland State Arts Council and the school.

Throughout the week students viewed videotaped excerpts from their opera, learned either an aria or chorus from the opera and learned an instrumental accompaniment for the music. Each class met with Lewis twice a week for 45-minute sessions. There were creative writing, art and other interdisciplinary activities featuring opera that were done in the classroom when students were not working directly with Lewis.

Students used crossword puzzles and word searches to reinforce vocabulary words, and a teacher workshop included an overview of the week and activities that could be used in the classroom to compliment Lewis’ residency.

The workshops “give students exposure to different arts they wouldn’t normally get,” said Kelly Dobson, instructional resource teacher in charge of the program. “We bring (the program) to the school through arts grants. We try to do something different every year.”

The students will perform what they have learned in an assembly on Monday afternoon. “Each grade level studies something different, so we share with each other in the end,” Lewis explained. The assembly “gives the students the opportunity to perform as well as share” in the company of their classmates.

Along with the third-graders’ study of Papageno’s arias in “The Magic Flute,” other grades will examine “The Three Bears Operetta,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Carmen,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Tales of Hoffman.”

Lewis lives in Columbia and has taught students throughout the state introductory lessons in opera as an artist in residence for the last 10 years. Interested in the art since age 15, Lewis has performed with the Baltimore Opera, the Baltimore Symphony and the Washington Opera among others.


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