Primary Opera Project

Monday, 10 June, 2019

We're very excited to be a partner in a new collaborative project with the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Music Generation Carlow. Project co-ordinator from the RIAM, Hilda Milner, developed the idea when working on a similar project with the National Concert Hall.

Here she tells us more about the project and what's been going on.

"We are so excited to introduce our new project, POpera! (Primary Opera Project)

Developing POpera

I'm passionate about bringing young musicians together in ensembles, especially in the primary school sector. Primary Ensemble Project (PEP) with the NCH developed out of this passion and has now just completed its third year. PEP aims to support and develop ensemble playing in schools that have whole school instrumental programmes and to date, PEP has had over 1000 participants and looks like it is going from strength to strength.

In its inaugural year, this sister project, POpera works on the premise that the voice is the primary instrument. We approached Music Generation Carlow as partners, to go to four schools to write an opera with a ‘P’ - it’s sassy, it’s popular and it’s all done by primary school children! Music Generation Carlow run an extensive vocal and instrumental programme throughout their county, many of their schools being situated in rural settings.

We were delighted the fantastic and inspirational Andrew Synnott from the RIAM came on board to lead POpera.

Here’s what we did over the past three months!

The key areas we wanted to explore with the kids were composition, performance (both vocal and instrumental) and drama. Sounds like a perfect opera! We took the theme of the four seasons and each school was given a season each. Each season represented a stage in life, Spring is childhood, Summer youth, Autumn represents middle age and Winter slows down to old age. Andrew started the first workshop in March 2019 by writing the libretti with the children. They had to think up characters that represented their stage of life and compose a story that had two characters who somehow are in conflict with each other. The kids were asked to write the story to reflect the conflict and then a resolution - good old fashioned 'and they all lived happily ever after', you can’t beat it!

Maestro Andrew then returned to each of the schools with the libretti and some musical ideas. The kids worked on playing some of the score with their instruments and also learnt to sing the ‘opera’ where they are the chorus. Andrew has very cleverly written the two main character parts for our INO singers, David Howes (baritone) and Joan O’Malley (soprano) to keep the story flowing.

In workshop 3 Davey Kelleher came down to stage direct the kids and the INO singers. The ideas flowed rapidly, lots of costume ideas, how to use trombones as walking sticks for the Winter excerpt, getting cellos to walk around while playing - it was a feast of creativity!

Final Showcase

This week sees our final workshops in the four Carlow schools, Bennekerry NS, Drumphea NS, Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal and Kildavin NS. Each school also has specific instrumental areas - Bennekerry use brass, Drumphea are all trad players, Kildavin are a vocal programme and Scoil Mhuire have a large string programme. Each ‘opera’ will be 5 minutes in duration and will be performed in The Visual in Carlow on Monday 17th June at 1pm. The four operas, led by Andrew Synnott, will be performed by the four schools and our INO singers will also interject some fantastic repertoire as interludes for the kids to hear and experience how the pros do it! It will be an energetic and lively performance from all involved." - Hilda Milner