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Blog entries posted during December 2011

You Give A Little Love and it All Comes Back to You

Music is truly an undeserved gift that we, as a collective people, are capable of harnessing. Some are more talented than others in various aspects of the music world, but we all share it.

Sometimes I don’t think we share it enough.

Music today is really about a perception. To perceive one, or a group, as a value instead of recognizing the experience for what it is. Unless multiple dollar symbols are attached to a name we rarely give a second glance. Unless the performance is up to par in our minds we could care less, we boo them off stage, we turn down the radio, we turn of television shows that make millions on dreams of those who truly love music.

But if you saw a new mother, or father, singing to their newborn child would you take notice? Would you watch, and inhale, the genuine experience of an elderly husband holding the hand of his decaying wife while humming the song they first danced to? Would you smile tenderly on an older brother teaching his younger sister the lyrics to the school pageant that she will be missing due to a last minute procedure?

I guarantee you hospital visitors, volunteers and personnel do just that.

LA Opera this Holiday Season discovered this lack in musical allocation and sent out a clan of singers to various Los Angeles Hospitals to sing Holiday Carols. I was apart of this fantastic group of the most talented, warm hearted and genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and we gave the gift of music to those in the hospital… but in return we received so much more.

Most hospital stories share grief, pain, hurt, loneliness and sorrow and while we saw what could have been; instead, with music, we saw laughter, we saw joy, we saw happiness and we saw interest. Genuine interest. How many times can you hold a conversation with a person and know they are truly interested? We, as humans, have lost a personal connection through out technological age especially in conversation. But, sing to someone and you would both be lost, together, in a splotch of time that could never be repeated. Music brings forth a feeling that truly nothing else has the power to do. Whether you are a trained musician, or an avid listener, music is emotional. Singing at the hospitals was emotional.

Walking into a particular room of a War Veteran and seeing the laughter of an elderly gentlemen, with no teeth, but enough gumption to request carols brought widening smiles by the second. Seeing families hovering around the beds of their sick, or dying, loved ones while their mouths gently danced along with the music brought tears to our eyes. Seeing the eyes of children widen and hands come to mouths to stifle their laughs while singing a goofy rendition of jingle bells could only instill the giggles of any onlooker. Every nurse working the long and tiring battles they face daily wouldn’t take their eyes off of us begging for more to keep this state of tenderness alive in their minds just a bit longer before the battle would rage again.

Music did this. Sharing music.

Walking through the hallways of the hospitals and seeing faces of every race, shape and size reminded me that music is powerful enough to transcend any barrier we still fight today. Music creates a peace, an inner harmony, that can truly connect everyone in the room. The dynamic swells, the melodious tunes, the gut wrenching harmonies – this is what the holidays are all about. Sharing these immense feelings of joy, the joy of music, can only bring about a spirit that the holidays harness.

So even if you can’t carry a tune… sing. Sing to your neighbor, sing in the car, sing to your spouse, sing to your child, sing to your father, mother, cat, dog, grandfather or grandmother because I guarantee they will always remember the time you sang to them. The time you thought of them enough to share the glory that is music.

I will never forget this hospital caroling tour and only hope it will be a tradition that returns year after year after year.

Announcing LA Opera’s College Advisory Committee

We are thrilled to be forming our first-ever College Advisory Committee.  To kick off what we are sure is to be a really successful group of student leaders, LA Opera hosted an Information Meeting on November 16, which was a blast! We had a great group of students who battled rain and traffic to get to the meeting; everyone was really enthusiastic and asked tons of questions and had lots of ideas. LA Opera’s Director of Education and Community Programs, Stacy Brightman, started off the meeting with an overview of the department, a history of the company, and a brief explanation of what the College Advisory Committee is all about – helping LA Opera develop programs and marketing strategies geared towards college students, preparing participants to become opera ambassadors on their college campuses, and developing special marketing projects to coincide with main stage productions.

Stacy later opened up the floor to the students, and the ideas and suggestions were flying! Some had ideas on how to incorporate opera into their school curriculum, while others talked about using social media to advertise events happening at LA Opera and elsewhere in the city. There were groups of students who told us how they were already promoting opera, by creating community outreach programs and opera clubs on their college campuses. Everyone agreed that it was important to spread the word about opera to more Los Angeles communities.

So far, we have sixty-eight interested students representing twenty-five colleges and universities across the Southland, studying everything from music to economics to microbiology. There are native Angelenos, out-of-state, and international students. Some have been opera lovers since childhood; others have been fans for just a few years. But they are all passionate about opera, and want to spread their passion to their classmates, their schools, and their communities. We are so excited to work with these students!

And if you’re interested in joining the committee, let us know! Please e-mail us at educom@laopera.org or call (213) 972-3157 for an application.  Applications are due this Friday, December 9, 2011

A Look Back at “The Prospector”

The Prospector

The warming rays of the sun pass through my windshield as I head in south on the I-5 freeway. The glamour of nearby Hollywood and Los Angeles has dissipated as more gravel is added between them and my vehicle. What becomes of the surrounding geography is industrial. I find myself veering off the freeway and driving into a territory I am unfamiliar with. “Pioneer,” I call myself, as I bravely venture forth; coincidentally, Pioneer is the name of the street that leads me to my destination. I arrive at an elementary school glowing with generations of experiences, hopes, dreams, failures, successes and life-changing direction. Unbeknownst to me, my being would become a part of the layers of life-changing direction.

It is my experience at Cesar Chavez Elementary in Norwalk, California, with the Elementary in School Opera that has tainted my soul for its betterment.

I gaze upon this school, the oldest in the Norwalk-La Mirada School District, with such curiosity. The architecture is something out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, and for a moment I feel I can actually smell the mischievous ways of golden child Eddie Haskell. Built in 1923, this building has served dutifully as a city hall, Norwalk’s school district central office, and an elementary school under numerous pseudonyms with a common goal – to educate the people of tomorrow. There is no sea-breeze, no bustling streets, no cacophony of yells, horns or construction. There is only quiet, not silence, just quiet. Walking into the beautifully aged school I am told to follow the sounds of laughter by a pleasant office worker and sure enough, just around the bend, a line of children and parents stretch out to the blacktop savior of teachers, and students, known as the playground.

They have all come to see The Prospector, which requires the collaboration of some of the hardest working people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. There are no words I can place on paper, or the internet, that would give justice to anyone who worked on this beautiful project.

Squeezing into the double doors, I found myself in the quintessential elementary school cafeteria thinking on the struggles all of our public schools are facing today. Since Spring of 2011 over 26,000 pink-slips have been distributed to teachers by the California State Government. There has been a 5% decrease in funding per student from 2007-2008 and the fear of dropping to a 10% decrease is gradually becoming more of a reality. The arts, what we at the Opera House live and breathe, are being tossed to the curb by schools in order to focus funding on bettering assessment test scores in order to increase school funding. Catch-22. However, this school in Norwalk, California, has a faculty dedicated to incorporating as many arts programs as they can.

The cafeteria is dark, with relatively low ceilings, and its inhabitants are squeezed shoulder to shoulder with each individual squirming for any space they can find. I glance to the wall checking the fire code posting on the legal limit of people allowed inside – we might be over. As I made my way to the back securing my corner to stand in and the storm had finally settled… my breath was gently ripped from my lungs. Just over 60 young students, dressed as coyotes, sit quietly in front of a decorated stage on miniscule risers patiently waiting direction from their director. How glorious.

A man calmly takes control of the audience. From the instant he speaks the crowd listens. He is obviously respected and from his interactions with the students, teachers and parents his position of principal is worn well.  Immediately words on the importance of the arts emit from his lips. He shares his gratitude with the teachers who pushed incorporating this program. Applause erupts. The lights dim slightly and the director of The Prospector commands the audience with a simple “Hi.” He is obviously a singer as his low resonant sound caresses the ears of the inhabitants in the packed cafeteria. He gives a brief synopsis of the soon to be performed opera while incorporating the perfect amount of goofiness to engage the children sitting Indian style in front of the performers.

The show starts.

What happened next is something, a welling emotion, I am honored to be part owner of.

This collaboration of peoples have taken a sinking ship, patched it up amidst a storm and created a new North for its precious cargo to follow. It was the epitome of what performance art should be. For a short amount of time, The Prospector, created a communal experience that instilled feelings of happiness, sorrow and escapism for its audience and performers. The hardest of hearts could not withstand this magnificence.

Applause erupts.

The show ends.

Tears stream down my face and I let them rest for a while as they have deserved to share this 10 week journey ending with this unforgettable experience. A soft spoken teacher gently places her hand on my shoulder. “You are walking on water. You are changing people’s lives.”

I am so honored to receive this message, although I feel completely undeserving. All of the gratitude should be to those who put this opera on. They are the ones who created this memorable experience. They are the ones who changed lives. I was just lucky enough to be able to watch the show unfold from its beginning to the end – and for that I am grateful.

All of us there have become extensions of that school, of that show, of that experience.

We are an opera company and we have impacted lives for the better.

I am grateful for LA Opera. I am grateful for the Education and Community Development department. I am grateful to be a part of a team that desires to change lives.

From the bottom of my heart, Thank You.