Liz Glasser’s Blackheath Halls Community Opera story

Liz Glasser plays the clarinet in the opera’s orchestra, writes the Teacher’s pack for the primary schools and has been involved with Blackheath Halls Community Opera since it started in 2007, both as a participant and as a teacher at John Ball primary school. This is Liz’s Community Opera story:

To start at the beginning: I have been part of the community orchestra from its inception 7 years’ ago. When I heard quite fortuitously that an orchestra was being formed at Blackheath Halls, I was utterly thrilled; I almost wanted to forego my long-awaited holiday to France as I wished rehearsals to start straightaway. I felt like a child waiting for Christmas, I was so excited. It had been 30 years since I had had the opportunity to play in an orchestra & although I had practised my clarinet every summer, while on holiday, I had terribly missed the joy of playing in an orchestra.

As the end of the first season approached and we waited to hear what was proposed for the summer’s concert, we discovered, to our utter amazement mixed with some incredulity that we were to be part of the first community opera at Blackheath Halls: Carmen. What a wonderful adventure it turned out to be; most of us could not have foreseen how important a venture this was to be: the involvement of amateur with professional [glorious]; school children singing & acting [not only introducing them to opera but also many of their parents too]; children from special schools [how they enjoy it & how  moving it is to see them so involved]; Trinity young musicians & Laban dancers too. What a mix! How joyous! Yes, I know: lots of work by Rose & co backstage & I thank her mightily for it all. And now another 6 years & 6 operas on & each year an extraordinary & thrilling experience, which I’m ever thankful to have been part of. I’ve loved every opera & I’ve learned so much.

In addition: the lovely Rose asked me if I’d like my own Year 5 class to be involved. I’m not sure I even asked the head but I definitely said yes, please. It was always a juggling act, as ‘my’ school, John Ball, always puts on a massive summer play/ musical & it always happened to be the same week as the opera. We managed: one evening on stage at BHH, the next evening on stage at school. Yes, they were tired but also very excited. How many of us can say that aged 10 we had had the chance of performing in an opera? That we knew lots about how an opera works? What it’s like standing next to an opera singer in full flight? That we had been directed by a professional director? That we could go to the ENO & compare it to our own performance – which they did. These are unique experiences. And I watched them performing from my spot in the woodwind, usually very emotionally. We spent our summer term not only preparing the music to be sung but finding out about the opera in detail; never a dull moment. I must mention the parents: they were also thrilled. They helped find costumes; looked after them during the performances; were bursting with pride to see their children on stage; & many learning a little bit about opera. No negatives, all positives.

Now, sadly, I am re*****ed. I miss school tremendously, especially the children. Again, the lovely Rose has come partly to my rescue. She has asked me to put together the Teachers’ Booklet as an aid to the ever-busy teachers. The idea is to provide lots of possible ideas about the opera for their class to work on. This year being Macbeth, the choices are many & varied. It will be great to see some of the children’s work on display at BHH. One year, someone overheard an audience member saying that you didn’t need to read the programme notes to find out the plot, just go & read one of the storyboards, as the children had made it really clear to follow it! I’m sure the same will happen this year too. I’m looking forward to seeing the children’s work on display; it’s not to be missed.

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