ALICE: I told Lollipop I would never ever forget him or leave him and now he is gone. I can’t find him.
DIGGER: Alice, we will find him together, just like we found the moon rocks. Don’t give up, we can do this!
I get first graders at the Brooklyn Children’s School to create their own original music theater pieces. We call them First Grade Operas. The teachers and para-professionals in the classroom are closely involved in all stages of the process. Each first grade class creates their own opera. I usually start my visits in October when the children choose a theme for their story (this year the themes were Space, Underwater and Knights). Over time the children will create characters, a story outline, song ideas, lyrics, melodies and dialog. By late March or April a scenery back drop that covers a wall in the classroom will have been painted, set pieces and costumes will have been designed and built, all with the children’s help. Each classroom will have been turned into a theater space, and each class will perform a dress rehearsal for the other classes, and an official performance for invited family. It’s a pretty big deal for the kids and their folks.
I have helped create about 50 first grade operas over the years (that’s just first grade at the Children’s School; if you add all the other schools and grade levels where I have mentored original opera projects, the number would be…. um, easily in the hundreds, but my grasp of accounting and statistics is exceeded by that question). I have learned when the operas are performed for the parents that the one thing that often needs to be restated is that the children really did compose the melodies of their songs. Adults don’t question that 6 year olds can create stories and dialog and paint scenery, but they assume that I must have written the music. Of all the arts, composing seems to be the most mysterious to grown-ups, they generally can’t imagine themselves doing it so they don’t see how the kids could do it. So I often find myself confirming that yes, the children came up not only with the lyrics, they also made up the melodies. Usually this process involves me sitting at a table with a group of children, reading out a previously written lyric to a song, and asking one of the children to try to sing it back to me. The first graders don’t need to know how to write down notes, they just need to be willing to sing and make up melodies or melodic phrases. I will be their scribe and their music editor.
OK, enough explaining, let’s get to the fun, the first retelling of a First Grade Opera!
This one from this year’s space opera by class 1-1, with excerpts from the score:
Astronaut Alice and her dog Lollilop run out of fuel and crash land on an alien moon. While they leave the rocket ship to look for fuel, the alien Digger enters the rocket and excitedly plays the video games he finds inside.
Alice discovers Digger. They strike a bargain. Alice will give Digger video games if Digger helps her collect the moon rocks that have the fuel Alice needs to get back to Earth.
While Alive and Digger collect moon rocks, the Alien Bambombo discovers Alice’s dog Lollipop. Bambombo loves pets and takes Lollipop.
Then the Alien Cockeldoodlecah discovers the rocket. Cockeldoodlecah remembers seeing the flowers on Earth when he was a child. He wants to see them again and sneaks into the rocket.
Alice and Digger return to the rocket with enough moon rocks for fuel. But Lollipop is gone and Alice cries.
Bambombo sees Alice cry and returns with Lollipop, apologizing for taking the dog. Alice and Lollipop say good-bye to Digger and Bambombo and fly back to Earth.
They don’t realize that they have a stowaway, Cockeldoodlecah, who is looking forward to seeing Earth’s flowers.
The end (Curtain call!)