OFTY FYI: Teacher Feature ✦ Karl Kessler

Images 1,2 – Karl Kessler poses with his students – Image 3 – Rusalka wall art created by Kessler’s students

Every year we meet hundreds of innovative music educators along our tour, and we’re excited to introduce you to one of those teachers. Karl Kessler works with students at both Butte des Morts Elementary and Jefferson Elementary in Menasha, WI. We interviewed him at Butte des Morts’ performance of Rusalka this season:

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Which students learned the music for the show?

K- I introduced it to K-2, and then 3-5 grade I taught all the songs – hopefully to give the performance surround sound!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background:

K- My background is music education – I’m certified for K-12, vocal, instrumental and general. LOVE theater. I’ve been in 27 different musicals – the whole performance is phenomenal for me.

What’s your favorite show or role that you’ve played?

K- It’s a toss-up between Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Adam in Children of Eden.

When did you start performing?

K- In high school – I was Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie. The director needed a male vocalist and said, “Hey, you’re not a part of the drama club, but will you do this?” and I said “Sure!”

Do you feel like you had an “arts-full” childhood?

K- I loved singing, I took piano, and I stayed with choir and band throughout middle school and high school. Voice is my primary instrument and clarinet is secondary.

Tell us about your approach to teaching:

K- I feel like kids need to enjoy what they’re singing, so I give them the opportunity to pick from the quality music I find for them. They feel like they’re getting to choose, and so far it’s worked great – they have ownership for it now.

The teacher before me didn’t do anything with Broadway, and our spring concert is something the school hasn’t seen before. We’re doing 11 songs – An Evening of Music from Movies and Musicals. All of the songs have a message – “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”, stuff from HamiltonDear EdwinaSeussicalNewsies, a song from Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Lin Manuel Miranda called “Java Flow”– and the kids are just eating it up. My third graders are singing that in the Huttese language from the film. The kids seem to be enjoying this new interactive kind of show, and I’m so happy to share it with them!

Anything else you’d like to share?

K- I think OFTY is a wonderful company – to provide this exposure of opera for the kids…I mean this is…I can’t wait to do it again next year!

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OFTY FYI: Rusalka Returns!

 

Click to see highlights!

After a long winter’s break, the Opera for the Young touring artists are back on the road with Rusalka: A Mermaid’s Tale. The fall tour concluded on November 10th with 33 performances in 3 states. The tour inspired some colorful and creative underwater artwork and sea creature costumes in our student participants, and we’ve received lots of positive feedback from music teachers and students alike. We made this video to share some of our favorite reviews with you – click on the picture above!

OFTY FYI: Creators of the Storm

Click to watch the video!

It’s a busy summer here at OFTY – even as we prepare for our upcoming tour of Rusalka this fall, the first tidbits of our new creation, Super Storm (coming Fall 2018), are available to share! The first draft of the opera is nearly complete, and on September 7th, a quartet of singers will perform key sections of the opera for a special Preview Workshop. Take a listen to this video featuring OFTY Board Member Iris Kurman – she’ll tell you all about the commission’s development and the steps the board is taking to ensure its success. If you’d like to make a contribution towards the new opera, now is the time – the OFTY board is matching all donations made to the Super Storm Facebook Fundraiser by August 28th, meaning your gift to OFTY will be doubled! Not on Facebook? Click here and be sure to mention Super Storm in the “Special Instructions”.

OFTY FYI: Our feature on WPR’s “The Midday”!

Click to see the live performance!

Singer Saira Frank & pianist Vincent Fuh perform on “The Midday”
(Studio photo by Allen Rieland)

Did you catch Opera for the Young on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” last week? If not (or if you’d like to hear it again), we’ve added two special highlight videos from the feature to our “In the News” playlist on YouTube and the entire radio interview can be heard online in “The Midday” Archives. OFTY Artistic Director Diane Garton Edie and Norm discuss OFTY’s upcoming 2017-2018 school tour of Rusalka: A Mermaid’s Tale, an OFTY original adaptation based on Dvořák’s opera of the same name. Managing Director Saira Frank and pianist Vincent Fuh perform two of Rusalka’s dramatic moments from the show, then Vince describes some of the challenges OFTY faces (and embraces!) in adapting operas for children.

OFTY FYI: Friends at Sugar Creek Opera!

"Thank You!" video from Sugar Creek Opera

Click “play” to see the slideshow

We just had to share this heartfelt “Thank You” video we received from Sugar Creek Opera following five performances in Iroquois County. Last week, Sugar Creek Opera sponsored five performances of Opera for the Young’s “Elixir of Love” in their local elementary schools: Watseka’s Wanda Kendall and Nettie Davis, Milford School, Thawville Elementary and Gilman ElementaryOFTY’s touring cast featured two former Sugar Creek Opera apprentice artists, Megan Brunning and Brett Potts. Megan Brunning played the Queen of the Night in Sugar Creek Opera’s 2015 production of The Magic Flute and Brett Potts was just seen as Al in The Grapes of Wrath this past summer. These two artists were also featured on a radio interview – listen to the interview here!

Sponsored by Sugar Creek Opera and in part by the Iroquois Federal Foundation, this opportunity was provided at no charge to these schools. Sugar Creek Opera has plans to sponsor this tour as an annual event and bring it to even more schools in 2018! We are so proud of this collaborative effort to introduce opera to students in Iroquois County. Sugar Creek General Director Helen Todd shares our enthusiasm:
“Opera for the Young does something that I have rarely seen in opera performance. They bring opera down to a child’s imagination and bring it to life. The stage direction for this tour was child centered and the translation was light and fun and easily understood. The world of opera was brought to the children with a sense of wonder and the child’s involvement in the performance was nurtured and valued. If only all arts organizations could lift up the child in this way, audiences would grow forever. Bravo! The children of our community had never seen opera before this performance. What a gift!”

OFTY FYI: Announcing Super Storm!

Super Storm coming Fall 2018

For more information, visit the official “Super Storm” webpage by clicking the image

A storm is brewing and it’s sure to be thrilling! Opera for the Young has commissioned a brand new opera for young audiences: librettist Diane Garton Edie and composer Scott Gendel have already begun their work on Super Storm. This original opera showcases individuality and cooperation. Four very different vocalists discover their unique strengths when caught in a super storm. Young choristers play abandoned cats and dogs hiding out in the same cave during the bad weather. A lot happens…
 
Beginning with Orpheus Returns in 1994, Artistic Director Diane Garton Edie and her various collaborators have created OFTY’s portfolio of 9 famous opera adaptations, resulting in the creation of a unique brand of opera outreach that is a shining example to the worldwide opera community. Each adaptation represents a different era in music history. Super Storm will go even further, showing young people that all opera was not written centuries ago – new works with modern stories are being created right now!

OFtY FYI: In the recording studio!

Click the PLAY button to watch a sneak peek of the cast recording session featuring OFTY's artists and Madison Youth Choirs!

Click the PLAY button to watch a sneak peek of the cast recording session featuring OFTY’s artists and Madison Youth Choirs!

The Elixir of Love tour is almost here, and cast members from the show got together with members of Madison Youth Choirs to record The Elixir of Love Cast Recording and Tutorial CD. Every year, these two valuable tools are sent to teachers in a packet of teaching materials with in-depth information about Opera for the Young’s program. By familiarizing their student choristers and audience members with the music and story before the day of the show, teachers help create for them a positive opera experience with a lasting impression. The Tutorial CD can be played in its entirety in the classroom – instructional tracks lead students and teachers through the music, beginning with vocal line only tracks, then moving on to rehearsal tracks that allow the students to sing along with the piano accompaniment. To share the experience with families and siblings, these rehearsal tracks are also available to students online. In this way the whole family can take part in the experience and get excited for the big performance day!

OFtY FYI: Video Release Announcement!

Click to watch!

Click the PLAY button to watch the set of three introductory videos outlining the mission and programs of Opera for the Young!

Opera for the Young is thrilled to announce the release of three videos outlining the mission, in-school experience, and artistic excellence of our annual school tours. The three short introductory videos are the result of a year-long enterprise: a collaboration between Madison filmmaker, Miles Hofschulz and OFTY.  The company was ready for a professionally produced video that would reflect the quality of our work – an ambitious undertaking given our widely varied and acoustically challenging locales. Enthusiasm for the project came from Hofschulz’ love for the arts: “I’ve always been a fan of classical music and the Opera for the Young cast features incredible talent, both the singers and pianist, so it’s a lot of fun to listen to and watch these artists perform. But it’s also a blast to see these kids feel the music, especially when their faces light up with wonder on the soprano’s high notes. Then they get a chance to sing along and may even get a speaking line in front of the whole school, it’s just such a unique experience.”

 
The clips from OFTY’s Beauty and the Beast were filmed at Kennedy Elementary in Janesville, WI with the help of music teacher Shelly Van Tassell and art teacher Karen Smerlinski. Together with Kennedy Principal Allison Degraaf, these three educators highlighted their experience and shared their view that OFTY’s high quality, accessible, fun brand of opera education is vital for their students. OFTY’s The Magic Flute performance was recorded at Glacier Edge Elementary in Verona, WI with music teacher Melissa Bremmer. What made this performance particulary exciting was the extent of student involvement – Bremmer taught the music to a large offstage chorus, allowing hundreds of students to participate on the day of the show. OFTY’s third featured production, The Barber of Seville, was filmed by the Madison Media Institute and performed at Marquette Elementary. Click here or on the above picture to watch the videos now!

OFtY FYI: Student art to make you smile!

Click to see the student art slideshow!

Click to see the student art slideshow!

Every season, the schools that host Opera for the Young’s annual production are invited to participate in the “Be a Designer!” contest. Teachers are encouraged to help their students create multi-media visual art projects to decorate their classrooms, the school hallways, and the performance space. In addition, many children enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to put on face makeup and costume pieces to wear the day of the show. Our twofold goal is to reach those creative children who may not be as interested in the performance aspect of opera and to drum up excitement for the opera throughout the entire school. Click on the link above to see examples of artwork from the first half of this season’s tour of The Magic Flute!

 

Ashley Koffarnus, the music teacher at Evans Elementary in Fond du Lac, makes it a community building experience for the whole school: “I have each grade do one art project in music class.  Then I take all of the art projects to create a huge masterpiece within the performance area (our music room).  The students learn that they are helping to create the set for the performance area.  We talk about setting, set, background, scenery building, etc. They really enjoy knowing that they have contributed to the show, even if they are not in the on or off stage chorus.  It brings a huge sense of community to the show!”

Meet Katie, tour mastermind!

Katie Butitta and BYOO Campers

Katie Butitta, OFtY’s Operations Manager rehearses with student campers during OFtY’s Summer Camp, “Build Your Own Opera” (2014)

Opera for the Young’s 2015/16 tour of The Magic Flute goes back on the road this Monday- what better time to feature the woman behind the tour? This season, OFtY will perform The Magic Flute in over 170 schools at over 200 performances! From booking hotels to scheduling performances to supporting teachers, OFtY’s Operations Manager Katie Butitta makes sure school music teachers, students, and our cast are prepared and excited for every show. 

 
Katie isn’t always behind the scenes- she first came to Opera for the Young as a singer – The Pirates of Penzance (2011) and Cinderella(2013). A graduate of UW-Green Bay, Katie holds a major in voice and a minor in arts management as well as a masters degree in vocal performance from UW-Madison. You can see her onstage this season with the Madison Choral Project and the Madison Opera Chorus. OFtY is known for our high quality, professional school programs. As both a wonderful performer and excellent tour manager, Katie delivers! Check out this article featuring Katie as UWGB celebrates its 50th anniversary!