Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Three R's - Reading, Writing, and Rigoletto

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Three R's - Reading, Writing, and Rigoletto

Article excerpt

Growing up in a musical family, Michelle Henderson and her siblings would rummage through their mother's "costume box," dress up in elaborate outfits, and perform after-dinner opera productions for the family. They would sing made-up words and imitate opera characters from cartoons.

Today, years later, the costumes may be boxed up, but the music producer's passion for opera is still very much alive.

She has transferred that enthusiasm into a new CD and teacher's guide - "The World's Very Best Opera For Kids ... in English!" She hopes popular arias in such operas as "The Barber of Seville" and "Madame Butterfly" will inspire teachers to lead their classes in a singalong, stage a concert or opera production, or simply pique the interests of young students.

"Everybody recognizes these melodies," says Ms. Henderson. "It might come from a pizza commercial or minivan commercial, but it's a very historic CD.

"We took away the intimidation factor. You don't need to know when a composer was born, or when he died, or even where or when the original opera premiered. What you really need to do is listen to the music and if it touches your heart, then it can become part of your life."

At a time when schools are facing cutbacks in the arts, Henderson says the CD serves as a tool for both music instructors and those not so musically inclined.

"As music teachers are being replaced by general classroom teachers, it's now up to the third-grade teacher who teaches social studies, physical education, and science to also teach them music," says Henderson, also the president of The Children's Group, a Canadian-based company that sells family-friendly DVDs, CDs, and books.

The 48-page teacher's guide, for Grades 2 through 8, features short synopses of the operas, sheet music, and a range of activities from clapping to the rhythms to singing to five karaoke tracks. One section examines opera's influence on modern movie composers. The music played by brass instruments in the "Star Wars" theme, for instance, are similar to those in Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."

When music teacher Avery MacLean sat down to write the guide, she wanted to dispel the notion that opera is just about a fat lady in horns. …

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