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Elementary school kids get a chance to learn about opera

Students from Neveln Elementary School sing a piece led by teaching artist from the Minnesota Opera Bergen Baker in Austin.

Austin's elementary-aged students are getting a little taste of opera this fall with Minnesota Opera residencies in the schools.

The Opera's teaching artist Bergen Baker will work with all the first- through fifth-graders in the district during the residencies. Students will learn about the opera with age-appropriate and hands-on activities in the music classroom.

"So everyone get an exposure to what opera is," Becker said.

Baker and other Minnesota Opera performers are in Austin for a four-week collaborative residency with the elementary schools. It's one of the largest residencies in Minnesota Opera history, Becker said. The residencies are funded by the Austin Public Education Foundation, Minnesota Opera and parent groups from each of Austin's elementary schools.

The residency was at Sumner Elementary the week of Sept. 10, Neveln this past week, Southgate the week of Sept. 24 and Banfield the week of Oct. 1.


Becker prepares the fifth-graders with extra rehearsal time for the performance "Through the Ears and Eyes of Mozart," which is an interactive presentation of the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At the end of each school's residency, the rest of the students and staff will get to see the performances at the school.

Becker teaches the students about opera through interactive ways, depending on the students' age, such as opera dance parties, and he teaches them some Italian words. They also love to sing along with Becker, who's an opera singer herself. Becker said the kids so far have definitely been engaged.

"I hope to leave them with an expanded knowledge of what their options are," Becker said. "If I can spark something in their little minds..."

She works with each grade level at each school once. If they can leave the classroom with one thought about opera, Becker knows what she'd like that to be.

"That it's cool," Becker said. "That it's not some stodgy, boring art form.

"I want them to understand that opera is relative to their lives. Opera is referenced so much in our culture. Opera is something that can really enhance their experience in life."

A lot of the kids are really open to opera, Becker said, which makes what she does worth it. She is also continually surprised by the answers that the kids give her on a daily basis about opera. Becker said one student responded: "I like how the music flows together in a line and tells a beautiful story."

"And that came from a fourth-grader," Becker said.


Opera is something the kids seem to be taking a liking to, which may not always be the case when they get older. They're more open to opera than adults, Becker said.

"They don't have any preconceptions about it," she said.

Minnesota Opera is deeply committed to bringing innovative and accessible educational programs to greater Minnesota that highlight the community's existing cultural resources. As an extension of the residencies, the Opera artists will collaborate with the Austin Symphony Orchestra to perform during the first concert of the season Oct. 28.

Choirs from the elementary schools will join in a large chorus and add their voices to the performance as well.

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