Summer Opera Camps

Opera Camp 2008 – Project Row House & YES College Prep. School

Everyone has an artistic side to them, no matter what their age. I’ve had the honor and privilege of singing with the Houston Grand Opera Chorus since 1990 and after many years, still feel the excitement when I walk on stage and perform in front of an audience. As I continue to teach others, I realize how gratifying it is to help youth gain that same strength, confidence and excitement I received from my teachers. I would like to share some of my experiences teaching the Opera Camps this summer.

I taught 2nd and 3rd graders at Project Row House in Third Ward. We learned many aspects of opera from singing, dancing and acting to creating sets and backdrops. Getting to know my students was not difficult. These children have a wonderful way of expressing themselves through their artistic talents. Using theater games and exercises, I was able to open a safe environment for them to learn about themselves and others around them. We took a walk around the block so that the kids could take a different look at their neighborhood. I explained that when we drive by the same scenery everyday, we grow numb. But if we take a walk in the same area, we will see many new things. As we arrived back to the classroom, I paired them up into teams and had them work together on their drawings. Sometimes we see things differently from others and it’s nice to compare our thoughts in order to get a more vivid picture. The accuracy and details of these drawings were incredible. The kids suddenly recognized different styles and colors of homes, different shades of grass, power lines, different shapes of the clouds in the sky and even threw in their favorite sports or luxury vehicle. It was quite amazing. They also loved to dance to the cha cha slide and cupid shuffle, which was exactly what was needed in the time of low energy and sometimes HIGH energy. We discussed many instruments in an orchestra, talked about the maestro and even conducted a few patterns of 2/4 time and 4/4 time. They didn’t seem to be very interested in the “acting” portion of the classes, but they attempted it and quickly moved on to drawing and dancing, their forte. We had some great singers in the class, but being a young age, they wanted to move on to more exciting adventures such as freeze dance. This was a game that we played music and everyone dances….at any moment the music could stop…they had to freeze…the last person moving had to sit until we eliminated all but the final dancer. They LOVED this game and requested it daily. These children are all brilliant and you could see their love for the arts in many ways. I’m proud of each and every one of them.

In the YES College Prep. School, I taught an Opera Class for the 8th graders. They learned how to write an opera from the ground up…using their own words, style and actions to express a story through music. Although a bit timid in expressing themselves in front of others at first, these kids are unbelievably talented. We took an incomplete storyline written from a previous YES Prep. student and built the dialogue for the characters, wrote music, built sets and backdrops and finally added some choreography to a few chorus numbers. The results in rehearsals have been incredible. We took the teenager approach to expressing a work of art, designed and performed by them. Once the kids were able to put themselves in the characters’ shoes, the rest was history. Within two weeks a new opera was born. In the past few days the kids rehearsed, polished and performed their production for the entire school. It was a success….after all, it’s the kids story, I just assisted in some direction.

Performing is something each individual does daily, whether at work, school, out with friends or at home with your family. All of us have a performance to express…and the world is our audience. Each experience we have in life is based on our performance—the only difference in opera and theater is that it gives us the opportunity to become someone different. We get to experience being someone else for a while, different characteristics, different appearance and sometimes a different spirit and appreciation for our own characters we’ve been given in life. I want every person to experience a great audience….There’s no better feeling!!!

In closing, I stand in awe of the kids’ hard work and dedication in such a short period of time. You can do anything you set your mind on…even write and perform your own opera…you just have to go with what you feel.

KUDOS to all of you, both Project Row House and YES College Prep. School. You’ve made me very proud!!!!!!

Best of Luck to all of you,

Derek W. Henry