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Children’s Opera, Part III, The Vocal Score

This is the rehearsal that the children have been waiting for!  Today they will compose the melody for the opera.  
Materials for the teacher
  • Script from last week
  • A voice recorder (highly critical!)
  • A notepad and paper for changes
Step one:  Review and revise script from last week
Read the script you created last week to the children.  Ask for their stamp of approval, and if there is anything that they want to have changed.  The children have likely been thinking about the opera during the week and they may vote to improve some element of the story, especially when they hear it in its whole for the first time.  This is their last chance to make any changes.
Do not skip this step.  It may be tempting to plunge forward with the music, but this process is important because
1.                  Children see the whole picture for the first time
2.                  They are empowered by the teacher putting the script back in their hands
3.                  Improvements to the opera can be made
4.                  By voting the script in, they children will own the opera
Step two:  Composition
This is the step that most intimidates teachers and children who have never done children’s operas before, but it is actually very simple.  With the recorder on, read one line of the script to a child and have the child sing it back to you any way that they please.  If you are working with a large group of children, go through the script giving every child a turn.  For a small group, let the children take turns with the chorus parts, but let each child sing their solo parts to you.  Skip the repeated chorus parts because you will be using the same melody every time that they sing it.  Go through the entire script, and the children are done!  That’s it!  Really, the composing process is done and they can go home now.  Ta da!
Follow-up work:   
Ah yes, there is the arranging work to do, and this can be tricky.  This is one of the most time consuming jobs for the teacher.  You are forewarned!
Step one:  Initial notation.  It helps if you are at a piano when you do this part.  Listen to the first line of music sung by a child.  Sing it yourself.  Depending on the child, it may be more probable than possible that the line may have been sung off-key.  If you work with a group of children without this issue, hats off to you.  Do your best to sing the line yourself the same way that the child wrote it.  Now play it on the piano and notate it on staff paper.  When I did the homeschool opera I did not confine myself to a meter yet, but let every line sung by a child become its own measure as a way for me to keep each idea separate.  For now, notate each line where the child sang it, with the rhythm that they sang it.  Finish the script, do your best, and let that be good enough.
Step two:  Determine the key and meter.  Play through the entire opera as written.  Is there a natural flow?  Probably not yet, but you will get a general idea where to start.  For meter, 4/4 or 6/8 are likely choices.  For the key, C will probably be the easiest for you to work with when you arrange the piano accompaniment.  The key of D is the easiest key for children to sing in.
Step three:  Arrange the initial notation to fit the new key and meter.  It’s okay, you are arranging, not composing.  It is still the children’s work, but let’s face it, they are going to need a little help from you.  Treat each line sung by the children individually.  You will need to transpose many of the lines that the children sang to make it fit within your new framework.  Some children when shy will sing their lines very low- too low for their own comfort.  Some children will show off a little bit, and sing their lines very high.  No matter what voice range the children have, the personalities often determine where they will sing.  Isn’t that interesting?  The initial notation should reflect these pitches, but now you need to make all of the pieces fit.
Here are a few guidelines to help you:
  • Most, if not all of the notes should be between middle C and treble C.
  •  F-G are the most natural notes for young voices to sing- keep coming back to them, and let them guide you.
  • If a child sings a complex melody and it is their solo, leave it intact and let them shine.
  • The easiest intervals for children to sing are the minor third, and intervals in the pentatonic scale.  In solfege talk, this would be Sol and Mi, and for the pentatonic scale, Do, Re, Mi, Sol, La, Do.  In the key of C, these notes would be G and E, and for the pentatonic scale, C, D, E, G, A, C, respectively.  If that was way over your head, skip this tip, you will be fine without it.  I only bring this up because it will help children who have a hard time singing in tune to master their part in the opera.
  • Step-wise notation is also easier to sing.
  • It is okay to use your judgment during this stage.  Don’t be afraid to make the raw material that you have to work with sing-able for the children.  In fact, it is your job!
Step four:  Convert your penciled notation to either a music notation software program, or a legible hand-written version.  The children need something to practice with.  If you don’t have a software program, try http://musescore.org/.  It’s completely free, and it is a fantastic program.
Step five: (optional)  Create a practice CD of the final draft for the children to practice with.  You may be able to finish the piano accompaniment before the next rehearsal, but if not, the children will need to be able to practice the melody.  If you have created the software on the computer, you can use the playback controls to help you.  However, I highly encourage you to make a singing recording.  It will help them to memorize their lines and remember the context for the melody.  If you are working with another music teacher, it may be helpful to take turns singing on the practice CD to help the children know when someone else should be singing.


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  • Wow! My little brothers will be excited to know that their composition is being translated. I can give you the raw musescore file if it would help. And thank you for visiting, Em! I love Casual Blogger Comm too!

  • Hi Tamsyn

    Great you liked that little commercial – isn't it cute!
    I do love your instruction how to make a children opera – this is sooo great! I already put it on my to do list to translate it into German and do it with the preschool children in our kindergarten!!! Thank you so much!


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