Instilling in Kids a Love for Opera

Every Thursday, after the school day ends at Robberson Community School, a group of about 16 kids gather excitedly in the school’s gymnasium to participate in a lively Opera Workshop made possible through Missouri State University’s (MSU) service-learning program.

Dr. Daehn (center) leads the group in a warm-up exercise.

The workshop began last year as part of the integrated service-learning element in the MUS 193: Opera Workshop course led by Dr. Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn, MSU’s director of opera and assistant professor of voice, and was held for the second time this fall.  During the 45-minute workshop, Dr. Daehn and her 16 students engage the Robberson kids in singing, music, dancing and drama, as well as hands-on activities related to opera such as making puppets and designing costumes.

“It’s a perfect environment for the kids to release their energy after a long day in class, play with each other, make discoveries about the arts and explore their creativity,” Dr. Daehn explained. “We’re investing in the school because music and the arts help kids learn and become successful. We want to create a generation of kids who appreciate the arts and have the ability to see the heart of music as something timeless.”

Besides teaching the kids about opera in a fun and interactive way, the MUS 193 students get to build positive relationships with them and impart into their lives.

According to Mr. Christian Mechlin, community resource coordinator at Robberson, the connection established between the students and the kids is one of the main reasons why the kids love participating in the workshop each week.

“That relationship is huge for our kids and provides them with positive adult role models who care and are there for them on a consistent basis, and that is one of the biggest pieces of a child’s development,” Mr. Mechlin shared.

He added that extracurricular activities promoting the arts like the Opera Workshop are very important for the kids at Robberson as they offer a lot more exposure outside of what is provided through the school. Furthermore, the activities support education that happens during a normal school day, building literacy, oral communication, confidence and a host of other skills that drive student success in the classroom.

For Dr. Daehn’s students, over 85 percent of them indicated in a mid-term survey that they found the service-learning opportunity at Robberson to be worthwhile and extremely worthwhile, while 100 percent agreed it was important and extremely important to engage in the opera outreach.

Ruthie helps three kids with an activity.

One of those students is Ruthie Carter, a sophomore music major. What she enjoys most about the workshop is the creative freedom it provides and seeing the kids’ imagination.

“I’ve forgotten how wild their imaginations really are and it’s been a blast listening to their ideas,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to teach music, but I was unsure of what age group. Thanks to this program, I’ve found that I really like working with elementary school kids!”

While her MUS 193 class is made up of both education students and performance students who may not have a desire to teach music, Dr. Daehn is glad they all see the value of the experience at Robberson. The positive nature of their feedback surpassed her wildest expectations.

“Not only do they get to share their passion for music and drama with the kids, but they’re also building cultural competence—a desire and ability to understand and interact with people of different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and family dimensions,” Dr. Daehn said.

The smiles on the kids’ faces and the warm hugs they give out when they see their MSU big brothers and sisters at the weekly workshops are proof of the deep and lasting bonds that develop over a shared enjoyment of the arts—thanks to the Opera Workshop.


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