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Sugar House Journal

Fourth Graders graders at Highland Park write an opera

May 08, 2017 09h26 ● By Natalie Mollinet

The students incorporated three stories including the “The Tortoise and the HairHare”. (Natalie Mollinet/City Journals)

By Natalie Mollinet | [email protected]

Many have heard the operas of Mozart, Puccini, and Wagner, but not many have heard the styles of Pieter Lingen’s fourth-grade class and their opera “Tales of Courage”, with lyrics completely written by the students. The opera, performed in April, was a class effort to bring the stories of “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “The Lion and the Mouse” together.

“This is the 11th opera I have done with my fourth-grade class,” said Lingen, a teacher at Highland Park. “The Utah Opera provides a (grant to a) musician that can work with the kids, and I usually choose a story that the students can make into an opera.”

The undertaking begins early in the school year with the decision of what story to base the opera on. Lingen tries to pick stories that aren’t very well known but this year, he made an exception. After the opera was chosen, Lingen brought the story to the students and then broke it up into different parts so everyone had a role. In groups, the students took the scenes they were given and came up with a song.

“The kids come up with the words to put together, and some are very funny,” Lingen said. “One song is about a troll and it goes ‘he’s bug and fat and related to a rat’ the kids come up with the words and work with a musician.”

That musician is Highland Park music teacher Jennifer Purdy, who works at the school twice a week and receives a grant from Utah Opera to help the students write the opera outside of school hours. With her musical knowledge, she showed the students how to turn their lyrics into songs.

After the music is written, is tryout time. Lingen says that if a student wants a solo they are given one and everyone participates whether it’s in the chorus or with a speaking line. The class practices for two weeks before and after school. Finally, the show goes on at Hillside Middle School for parents and friends to see.

 “It is a challenge sometimes,” Lingen said. “I do ask the parents to help out with costumes and scenery. I just keep asking till someone says yes, and we talk together about what I’m thinking and come up with some amazing things.”

Even though this is Lingen’s 11th opera with Highland Park, he has been doing some type of musical or opera with his fourth-grade class for 17 years. His first was a musical he put together called “Old Henry” based off a book by Joan Blos. Lingen wrote one of the songs for the musical and since has helped the students in his classes learn to appreciate the stage and the music.

“They just get so excited that they can do something like that,” Lingen said about the student’s enthusiasm for their opera. “They’ll say things like ‘that’s my words, and that’s my part.’”

Lingen said he grew up with opera in his home, and, at first, he wasn’t a fan. His father loved it though and would turn the music up if Lingen asked him to turn it down. Since then, he has been to a few operas and enjoys introducing this art to his students.

“It’s just story telling with music and dance,” Lingen said, “and that’s the wonderful thing about fourth graders, they’re willing to try something tough. Even if they don’t do anything ever again with opera, it’s still fun and great. It has given them the opportunity to experience it.”