On Thursday, Nov. 3, melodies from the opera La Bohème could be heard reverberating through the Hillsborough mansion ballroom, as fourth graders took the stage alongside four San Francisco Opera singers and an accompanist for an abridged performance of Puccini’s most famous work for a packed audience of lower school students, faculty, and fourth grade parents.
This performance was a showcase of one of the central themes of the lower school music program: the voice and body as musical instruments.
“Students often don’t realize how much capacity our voices have for music making,” said lower school music teacher Gemma Arguelles. “Watching an opera helps convey the power of the voice, as students begin to understand that opera is storytelling with music.”
And for fourth graders, they weren’t just watching the opera, they took part in the performance. Fourteen students volunteered to be on-stage performers and the rest of the grade joined in as the chorus.
This lower school tradition is part of the SF Opera’s Opera Together program, in which our Nueva fourth grade students rehearsed twice a week for more than a month before they are joined on performance day by professional opera performers.
“I really love that students get to see how these professional singers perform,” said lower school music teacher Gemma Arguelles. “They are blown away by their voices!”
Chorus is an integral part of the fourth-grade music curriculum, and one class per week is dedicated just to this speciality. The other sessions are focused on reading music and playing instruments. Music reading is scaffoled, so students begin in the first grade and each year the skills get more advanced. Students also play Orff instruments and by the end of fourth grade, they will have made their own musical arrangements that involve both playing music and singing at the same time.
It was clear that the students in the audience were enamored with the performance and that it helped to get students excited about singing.
“Kindergarteners in the front were responding to lines being sung, and at the end of the performance I heard a second grader exclaim, ‘That was a fast way to die!’” Gemma shared.
The goal of theOpera Together program, and the other elements of the music curriculum, is for students to realize that they have their own instrument—their voice—that can be used to make music.
“My hope is for students to realize how beautiful and expressive singing can be if they put their spirit and all into it,” Gemma added. “And singing in an ensemble like our chorus allows students to do this together. It’s one of the few class programs that challenges students to go at the same pace as their peers—everyone has to go at the same tempo. My hope is for them to build a love for making music together.”