Name That Tune
"Most have never seen an opera,'' Smith says. "Most thought it was just something where a fat lady sings.''
But, under Smith's direction, students take a far more probing look. Smith has nine classes in all--five 3rd grade and four 4th grade. Each meets two times a week for 30 minutes. During the seven- to eight-week opera unit, classes split up into five groups, each one with a different operatic assignment.
"One group designs the opera house, from stage to curtains to balcony seating,'' Smith explains. "The second group draws set designs, and the third designs costumes. The fourth makes masks, based on early Greek and Roman dramas. The last group makes props.'' Each group is expected to research an opera and come up with suitable sets, historically appropriate breastplates and helmets, or what have you.
Although music is the main element, Smith also incorporates elements of social studies and language arts into the lesson. On a world map in her room, for example, students attach tags with the names of operas to the places where they are set. In addition, each student has to write a two- to three-page synopsis of an opera; they have to say who wrote it and in what language and explain what happens in a particular scene.
"Once they got involved in the project, some of them found out that there was more to opera than just the music,'' says Smith. "For instance, there are some really neat sword fights in Julius Caesar. The guys thought this was really great.''