Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Opera as an Intervention for Rural Public School Children

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Opera as an Intervention for Rural Public School Children

Article excerpt


In the present climate of reduced budgets for the arts and education, the continuing challenge is to provide increased cultural opportunities for rural public school children. By enhancing traditional opera performances with experiential learning techniques and emphasizing interdisciplinary study and the Nine National Standards for Arts Education, Southwest Missouri State University's "Opera Viva" has been able to adapt its performances to meet the specific needs of Missouri rural schools. Opera as an Intervention for Rural Public School Children is built on one of the basic tenants of the performing arts, its ability to engage the intellect and emotions on a personal as well as social level. Opera performances on tour in rural schools provide the basis for interactive and interdisciplinary experiences for educators, performers and audience.


Theoretical Concept

As noted by Robert G. Bringle and Julie A Hatcher, ("Making the Case with Quantitative Research," 2000), research for a project is most beneficial when "... the design is guided by theory ... when the data collection is relevant to supporting, developing, refining, and revising a theory." The theory, Opera as an Intervention for Rural Public School Children, is based on nine years of Southwest Missouri State University Opera Workshop service-learning performances. The hypothesis derived from this theory is that a performance of an opera on tour in rural elementary and high schools can significantly alter not only the school-age child's knowledge and appreciation of music, but could also influence the school age child's perception of related social, multi-cultural, and interrelationship issues. A related hypothesis is that the students participating in Opera Workshop as service-learning would benefit from the additional performance venues and receive an enhanced educational experience through experiential learning opportunities as defined by C.R. Rogers and H. J. Freiberg (1994) in Freedom to Learn. According to Rogers and Freiberg learning is facilitated when 1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, 2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and 3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success. Opera performances are an ideal medium for the integration of these three principles into an arts experience.

Background: The Development of Opera as Service Learning

Nine years of opera performances in Missouri public schools by Southwest Missouri State University's "Opera Viva," the touring opera company, raised many interesting questions both about the effectiveness of the performances and the type and amount of learning going on for the student performers as well as the public school audience members. In order to address the questions, the primary difficulty was to change the opera performances from an event that an audience simply watches, and hopefully enjoys, to an event that would stimulate life-long learning and interest in the arts. In changing the purpose it was then possible to redefine the product as research. The research outline becomes 1) to improve the production so it answers specific needs of the audience and involves the audience in some manner, and 2) to integrate elements of experiential learning and interactive learning into the performance for the benefit of the student performers and the public school audience members.

In designing opera workshop performances with Roger's concepts in mind, experiential and interactive learning were implemented in the following ways. 1) In order to promote a higher level of critical thinking, the project encouraged the contribution of the student directors and performers to all aspects of the new Curriculum Guide, including the production process, suggestions for the lesson plan, art projects, interactive exercises, costumes, make-up, and suggestions for quantitative and qualitative assessment. …

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