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Indianapolis Opera: Making Connections between Music and Art
Andrea Johnson, Manager of Education and Adult Learning Programs, OPERA America
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EducationLink7/16/2007

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During the last week in June, Indianapolis Opera presented their summer professional development workshop for teachers, designed around OPERA America's MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! (M!W!O!) curriculum. The M!W!O! curriculum, written for grades K-12, introduces the conventions of opera through the study of an operatic masterpiece and gives students the tools to create and present their own original opera. But this particular week-long workshop was in no way typical — Patty Harvey, Indianapolis Opera's education director developed a unique collaboration with the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) that enhanced the teachers' study of opera while introducing them to new teaching techniques.

The workshop was held in a classroom at the IMA, and was taught collaboratively by M!W!O! trainers Roger Ames, composer and Kay Hoke, music professor; and Sarah Martin, the manager of teacher and school programs at the IMA. Working at the museum allowed all three instructors to integrate their teaching methods, showing a variety of connections between the visual arts, opera, and other subjects. Teachers undertook an in-depth study of Puccini's Tosca, which was enhanced by listening to and viewing several different productions. They practiced a teaching technique called Visual Thinking Strategies, or VTS, which teaches can use with students to conduct a dialogue about what they see and feel while looking at art. The group also learned about the upcoming exhibit of Roman sculpture that the IMA will be bringing over from the Louvre in the fall. During the school year, teachers will study the opera with their students and attend the exhibit at the museum, as well as a dress rehearsal of Indianapolis Opera's production as a class. For the culminating activity, participants decided to write a mini-opera about Scarpia and several women he had been involved with, and they used portraits from the museum's permanent collection as inspiration for each female character.

The workshop participants, who teach varied subjects such as English, history, jewelry making, and photography, came away from the week excited about the possibilities of using opera in their classrooms. They designed individual lesson plans and also created a collaborative project that all of them would undertake with their students. Each student will design a two-inch by three-inch trading card with a visual and written representation of their thoughts about the opera. All of the cards will be displayed in the lobby during the run of Tosca, so that the students will be able to see their own work and the work of students at other schools. Teachers who participated in the workshop and their students will also be able to connect with each other through an electronic bulletin board set up by Indianapolis Opera.

Indianapolis Opera's M!W!O! workshop was an eye-opening experience for all of its teacher participants, who came away excited by opera and armed with strategies to infuse that excitement in their students.

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