John M. Eger – Huffington Post

Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University

Posted: Posted: 07/7/11

Opera has always worried about its appeal to younger audiences, but 9-year-old kids?

According to the Washington Post citing a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts, “The audience for the performing arts is slipping nationwide. But opera has proved to do slightly better than other classical forms — orchestral music or ballet — in terms of holding onto its audiences.”

The Opera’s presence in schools across the country is not about increasing audience — at least not at present — it is about increasing student learning through the arts; it is about increasing competence in developing the new thinking skills the 21st century workforce demands.

The Metropolitan Opera puts it simply: “opera provides a unique and lively way to engage and educate students and teachers both inside and outside the classroom.”

According to The Met’s Manager of Communications, Sam Neuman, they have increased their presence in the last schools the last three years. And hope to do more. On their website they proudly state, “Students, partnering teachers and a (Metropolitan) teaching artist collaborate to create a story, write a script and lyrics, add melodies and other musical moments, and visual design elements to enhance the telling of their story. Through this process, students acquire and learn to express themselves in multiple ways and build confidence through theater games, improvisation, and music composition. Every partnership is designed to meet the specific needs of each class, and culminates with a staged reading.”

In San Diego, according to Nicolas Reveles, the Geisel (think Dr Seuss) Director of Education at the San Diego Opera says their program dates back to 1965. While they have dress rehearsals for every opera to which all the schools — mostly elementary — are invited. However, the heart of the Opera’s music program attracts reading and literature teachers who participate in 8 week “residency programs” in which kids participate in every aspect of composition, set design scoring, and performance involving several artists from the opera. The real connections to learning occur here.

Across town, the Old Globe in Balboa Park also partners with the Opera and the schools throughout the county in the education effort. Roberta Wells-Famule, Director of Education, is proud that “the Old Globe …will create Professional Development programs to meet the specific needs of individual schools (and) work with the schools “to create an action plan, schedule the workshop(s) and share assessment strategies”.

Music it has been determined, dramatically benefit kids learning. For example, in an analysis of “U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students (NELS: 88, National Education Longitudinal Survey), researchers found that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show “significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12. This observation holds regardless of students’ socio-economic status, and differences in those who are involved with instrumental music vs. those who are not is more significant over time.”

There is no doubt these efforts in theater and opera help school kids find a love of music, and dance and performance while helping nurture the higher order thinking skills they need in the 21st century workplace.