One False Move – a short opera about girl bullying
Somebody’s Children – an opera about the orphan trains and the outbreak of the Civil War
Joshua’s Boots – an opera about black cowboys, Adolphus Hailstork, composer
She Never Lost a Passenger – a short opera about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Rail Road
Mission Statement about writing
Children’s and Youth Opera
In 1992, I began writing operas featuring kids singing alongside professional singers. I wanted to see if there were a better way to do opera outreach than the 35-minute “Barber of Seville” that has been the going modus operandi since I was a kid and long before. My theory was that if real kids get to be in real operas, with real roles for them as meaningful characters and chorus, telling real stories with real grownup opera singers singing real roles for grownups, it might de-mystify all that strange, unreal formality that the uninitiated can find so impenetrable in the opera tradition. I thought that maybe, when they were subsequently taken to see The Magic Flute or La Bohème, it wouldn’t be strange and impenetrable any more.
I was extremely fortunate to meet Paula Winans at Lyric Opera of Kansas City who was way ahead of me: she had a residency program already established that allowed her to go into classrooms for several weeks at a time to teach and produce operas like this. Under her guidance, I developed operas on subjects that teachers could wrap whole curricula around, making the time given over to the opera an addition to, rather than a subtraction from – their teaching time. Among the various benefits to the kids, and there are a slew – you’d be surprised how many “disruptive” children turn out to have musical talent – or maybe you wouldn’t be! – is the pay-off when they later go see a “big people’s opera.” They now know from experience that everyone on stage is trying to remember their music, remember their blocking, keep one eye on the conductor and both ears open and oh yeah, act: tell an important story. “I know what they’re doing up there and I know how to do it, too” is a very empowering feeling. It allows kids to be more involved with the opera experience and, in the best of all possible worlds, maybe even want to go back again.