Linden Christ, founder of the Chicago Opera Playhouse and manager of education and outreach at the Chicago Opera Theater, engages hundreds of students each year through innovative programming, making opera accessible and available to young people throughout Chicago. Each program provides an opportunity for young students to learn about opera and practice Citizen Musicianship within their schools and communities.
Through the efforts of Linden Christ, founder and artistic director of the COP and the manager of education and outreach at the Chicago Opera Theater, hundreds of students in Chicago are watching, creating and performing in opera productions each year.
Founded in 2008, COP is a group of touring musicians who are committed to performing opera for young students in imaginative and engaging ways. Christ, along with her colleagues, develops various operatic programs that are suited for students from kindergarten through high school. This year, COP will present: Alice in Wonderland, a program suited for students in kindergarten through eighth grade; a classroom-based version of The Magic Flute, for students in kindergarten through third grade, and a Romeo and Juliet workshop for high school students.
While the majority of performances by COP take place in schools, many are also presented in community locations, including Lurie Children’s Hospital, churches, retirement centers and children’s museums. The performances are also interactive. “For Alice, we have the students learn the ‘Wonderland Chorus’ before the assembly begins,” explained Christ. “That way the students are able to recognize a bit of the music before we start, and it allows them to participate in the performance.”
In her role as manager of education and outreach at the Chicago Opera Theater, Christ works closely with two programs that are housed there: Opera for All and Chicago Opera Theater for Teens. Each program reaches over 300 students annually, providing an immersive and unique experience in writing and performing opera.
Opera for All is a year-long program designed for children in fourth and fifth grades, although in previous years they have expanded their program to involve students in first through sixth grades. Each year, the program is hosted at approximately five different Chicago Public Schools. Throughout the school year, teaching artists work with 50-60 students at each location, and provide the students with the skills to write and perform in their own operas. “They not only write it themselves – this year, it’s about dinosaurs! – but they also design the sets, help write the music, choreograph and stage it, and if that weren’t enough already, they also perform it for their peers and families,” Christ said.
The reaction from the students involved is quite positive. “The students love what they do,” she said. “They’re not working with Disney songs. They’re actually creating the opera, so you can see the pride that they have in their work come out.”
The program also represents an important aspect of Citizen Musicianship – creating community through music. “They work together to create the music in their classroom, so they’re not necessarily paired with their friends. But at the end of the program, they’ve really created their own ‘classroom community,’ and it was all done through creating this music, and making this production together.”
Although Christ’s work with COT doesn’t officially intersect with her work with COP, she does invite students from Opera for All to see a performance by COP, and the students perform as members of the chorus.
Chicago Opera Theater for Teens is a much more intensive, advanced program designed for high school students. COT for Teens operates in collaboration with the City of Chicago’s After School Matters program, and each year accepts 30 students from Solorio Academy High School. Students both apply and audition, and once selected, they receive a stipend to study vocal technique, drama, opera and musical theater, staging and production, and they learn about college and career opportunities each semester. Students involved in the program perform at various locations throughout the city, including a performance for their peers.
“The experience that these students are getting is incredible,” Christ said. “Not only do they get to do something that they love, but they get career advice and they are paid for their hard work and dedication. It’s a great opportunity for them.”
To learn more about these programs, please visit chicagooperatheater.org and chicagooperaplayhouse.com.