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Published in Print: October 1, 1999, as Mr. Hines’ Opus

Mr. Hines’ Opus

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A music teacher introduces his students to an opera--his own.

Last spring, the gym at Sunderland Elementary School was transformed into an opera house. More than 300 children from the Sunderland, Massachusetts, school took to the stage and, dressed in brilliantly colored silks and with faces painted, danced and sang an operetta called Animals of the Zodiac before a packed house. The kids knew their parts by heart-they had been rehearsing for four months-but they were even more well-acquainted with the operetta's composer: Edward Hines, the school's music teacher.

Hines, 48, wrote the music for Animals of the Zodiac on his computer several years ago and recorded it on compact disc to use as orchestration during performances. (Emily Samuels, a music teacher at another school, wrote the libretto.) Animals made its world première in 1997 at nearby Erving Elementary School, one of three schools where Hines teaches. Hines directed that production, as well as the spring performance. "The opera is an amazing event," he says. "We wanted to emulate that, and it worked."

The hourlong operetta, set in ancient China, recounts the creation of the Chinese zodiac. The animals of the zodiac don't know their proper or der, and Rat and Ox both want to be first. After much song and dance, clever Rat outwits oafish Ox and takes his place as the first animal of the zodiac. For Sunderland's performance, students from 5th and 6th grade played the animals-including Rooster, Pig, Dog, Monkey, Snake, Tiger, Rabbit, Sheep, Horse, and Dragon-as well as the emperor of the zodiac and his demigod assistant, Shun Yu. Young er kids performed dances and sang in the chorus.

Thanks to Hines, the performance turned out to be a blockbuster event in Sunderland. As opening night neared, a host of volunteers helped with preparations. Parents painted faces, art teachers designed props, and physical education teachers choreographed the dances. Most of the town's 3,100 residents attended one of the three evening performances. Hines "is talented at involving the whole community in his programs," says Peggy Bolte, parent of three Sunderland children.

The opera is part of Hines' mission to pass on musical traditions to his students. Classically trained in bassoon, clarinet, and voice, he goes to great lengths to get kids hooked on music because he believes that "some students blossom when they are given the opportunity to use their musical talent." To pique the interest of children, he brings to class exotic Middle Eastern instruments-the 'ud, divan sazi, saz, kaval, and zurna, to name a few. And he teaches them to sight-read using the theme from the movie Titanic: They first read the sheet music and then listen for notes in the soundtrack. He even spontaneously leads parades of children tooting instruments in and out of classrooms.

"Ed presents music to children without making light of it," says Mary Ann Clarkson, the former principal of Erving Elementary. "Kids just love his music. He's like the Pied Piper with them."

--Meghan Mullan

Vol. 11, Issue 2, Page 70

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