After losing funding for field trips to arts performances three years ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools partnered with the Arts & Science Council to not only reinstate them but provide a more complete experience.
In seven waves this week, more than 11,000 fifth-graders will attend “Endless Possibilities,” an event with the Charlotte Symphony, Opera Carolina and North Carolina Dance Theatre. The program features music and dance chosen to stimulate 10- and 11-year-olds and is accompanied by curriculum addressing this performance.
More than 51,000 students will participate in field trips, including third-graders and middle schoolers, at a cost of $338,000, mostly funded by ASC. Wells Fargo, Ulysses Festival, UNC Charlotte and CMS also contributed for the fifth-grade trips.
When the schools and ASC formed a partnership to bring field trips back, they wanted students to get more from the experience than a memory of whatever the arts groups chose to present – usually something from their current season. The partnership outlined what artistic material was appropriate for fifth-graders and reached out to the opera, symphony and dance company.
What they came up with was Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” arranged with a Latin beat, accompanying four couples dancing a salsa; Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” the Queen of the Night aria and the duet between Papageno and Papagena; the first movement from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, played with a rock, Latin and hip-hop beat; and in dance, Alonzo King’s “Chants;” “Warehouse Medicine,” a piece by Mason Bates for DJ and orchestra; and the overture to Bernstein’s “Candide.”
Students learn about the composers, musicians, choreographers and dancers before they see the show. On Tuesday, their familiarity and enthusiasm was evident as they joined Charlotte Symphony Guest Conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos in chanting “Johann Sebastian Bach” and “Ludwig van Beethoven.”
CMS teachers contributed to a wiki space with lesson plans, videos and activities. Orchestral seating charts, YouTube videos and ideas about how to connect literacy, math, technology and science to this performance populate the site. With this approach, teachers are allowed more freedom in choosing what to show their students.
“In class, I used a lot of video clips so that kids could actually hear and see ‘The Magic Flute’ and orchestral pieces,” said Kristen Johnson, a music teacher at Irwin Academic Center. “I could see the kids during the performance saying, ‘Wait! We’ve heard that!’ This reinforces what we’ve been learning for years and pulls it all together.”
Irwin students Quinten Weathers, 10, and Samantha Flynn, 11, recognized the Beethoven and Mozart works.
“Our music teacher does a composer of the month,” Samantha said. “We saw ‘The Magic Flute’ scene where Papageno and Papagena met. She showed us that, so I recognized it today.”
“My favorite part,” said Quinten, “was when they turned the Beethoven music into a hip-hop version, because I actually have a love for hip-hop.”
The lessons students are meant to learn is how the arts function in their lives and how they can be involved even if they don’t see themselves on stage.
Barbara Ann Temple, ASC education vice president was an English teacher before she was asked to oversee the partnership. She saw skills develop in all her students who were involved in the arts.
“Whether they were painters, photographers or bongo players, when they were artists, their creative thinking skills and problem-solving skills were at a different level across the board,” she said. “Artists see things differently; they approached learning differently. And that’s why we’re on a mission. In the business and service industries, the military, or whatever, people want creative thinkers. Providing our students with as many authentic, arts-based or arts-integrative opportunities is always going to increase the likelihood that those skills will be developed.”
Even within the arts, many more jobs exist than those that appear on stage. One of the partnership’s goals is to expose their students to the behind-the-scenes possibilities, a lesson that would go untaught without the curriculum surrounding the performance.
“I’m hoping that some of the kids could see themselves up on stage dancing, playing an instrument, singing or even working in lighting or costuming,” said Mark Propst, CMS performing arts specialist.
This collaboration provided experiences for the arts organizations, too. Many educational programs travel to schools and perform wherever there is an abandoned piano. With the students coming to Belk Theater, artists are able to give them a more conventional experience.
“This concert format requires more traditional choices, but I think that’s good,” said Alexandra Engle, the epic Queen of the Night in Opera Carolina’s educational program, Opera Express. “Fifth-graders can do a little more in a concert setting toward appreciating the traditional format. It’s good for them to see the main stage; they get an idea of what would happen if they came to a full production.”
Lessons continue in school
The effort to make this traditional yet innovative program happen was immense. Aside from the 18 months of planning, the partnership formation, Wells Fargo’s donation, the arts organizations performing at cost (rather than charging $4 per student), 40 school buses were required to transport 1,700 people to each of the seven performances.
The curriculum continues after the performances with journal activities. Students will be able to design their own costumes for Papageno or write a tweet about the event. The partnership expects benefits to continually reveal themselves for years to come.
Judging by the number of kids perched on the edge of their seats mimicking Bairos’ baton pattern with their hands, Charlotte can look forward to a flood of conductors.