Tag Archive for Ariana

Composition — a NON Composer’s Perspective

It’s been really productive and busy in the Humperdinck workspace!  Our composers have been working tirelessly with our students to hammer out the melodies that will make up our opera.  I recently had a chance to sit and watch some of what they’ve been doing, and it is really impressive.

Even though I’ve spent quite a bit of time with modern composers, the process of composing itself has always seemed mystical elusive to me (as I imagine it might seem to most people).  Do you just sit at the piano and simply plunk out different sounds until something ‘clicks?’  Do you create some kind of structure and then try and work within that?  What does this process even look like?


Flute composing



Luckily, our composers are both experts at their craft, and can also reshape that craft into words, games, and questions that are perfect for the Humperdincks to explore.  They are also starting with lyrics our students have already written (see Eva’s previous blog post here).  As a result, they have quite a bit to work with, and so they started by asking the kids a series of questions.

– What’s going on in this scene?
– How would you describe the mood?
– What does that mood look like in terms of body language?
– What does that mood sound like?

Today, nervousness was displayed through quivering lip, quivering voice, or seeming frightened and in a slightly crouched stance.  We say so much more with our bodies than we do with words, sometimes.


Evelyn with composing cards


Since we’ve been writing about, drawing, and acting these characters for a while now, our kids have really concrete ideas about what the characters look like, act like, and sound like.  They’ve been rolling these giraffes, lost girls, and ice spiders around in their minds for quite a while…and it shows.

Our composers also worked with the kids using their Composer’s Toolbox – a set of cards developed earlier in the season that had all sorts of musical choices.  Should this song sound bumpy or smooth, loud or soft, should it have a rhythmic pattern?  The most popular cards were then used in the piece.

While this was fun to watch and take part in, I want to emphasize that the process our Humperdincks are working through is often difficult for college-age students!  This is high-level learning, melding ideas about characters, emotions, sounds, rhythm, and language into something cohesive and entertaining.  Our Humperdincks are filling a tall order, and I couldn’t be more excited for what comes next – dance, staging, and learning the songs we’ve just written.

– by Ariana Strahl
Partner Teaching Artist, 2014-2015

Old Operas, New Discoveries


As a newbie on the Little Opera team, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about my point of view and how Little Opera is transforming my relationship to the art form that I adore.

Opera is unique in a lot of ways.  It’s everything at once, all the time, just like our closing song says.  As a performer, it can feel like a speeding car that should crash and burn every single night, but miraculously, through the incredibly hard work of hundreds of professionals on and off stage, it doesn’t.


When done thoughtfully, opera has the potential to be historical and emotional and political and psychological.  It can cut a direct path to hearts in dire need of catharsis — the universality of the human voice can access the deepest crevices of the soul better than anything I know.  Opera starts with something absolutely normal (singing) and blows it up to epic proportions, while expanding every emotion along with it.

When done right, opera is unmatched in emotional and artistic potency.  As performers, we’ve done our job when the audience leaves the house feeling something.

At Little Opera, I watch our students explore these elements for the first time.  Even our youngest students (2nd and 3rd graders) come up with the most sensitive and brilliant ideas, and I am witness to fascinating bursts of imagination. These kids can tell you all about how a song feels and why.  Without even trying, they’ve grasped concepts that take most adults years to understand.

Selfishly, I must admit that I thank my lucky stars that American opera’s future audience members are so excited about this wild world.  To be connecting children to this type of culture at such an early age is invaluable, and leaves a lasting impression.  Any number of these kids might find their way into some kind of career in the performing arts, an incredibly rewarding pursuit.  Who knows, maybe some will be my colleagues in another few years!  I hope to be so lucky.

But in the meantime, I’m also starting to sing from a new perspective.  As I discover the stories in the various shows I’m working on, I’m reminded that each work’s origin is rooted in someone’s imagination having run wild.  Somewhere, hidden behind the centuries, multiple editions, and countless arguments about how any number of styles and composers should be sung and played, someone had an idea that turned into each of these masterful works.

And as I now watch ideas turning into operas at Little Opera, I am making a point to honor that in a new way.

– by Ariana Strahl
Partner Teaching Artist, 2014-2015