14 July 2011

Deaf children put on an opera

Happy days, sound all around, deaf children all over the place and an opera singer in a bright orange dress are just some of the elements which are involved in a somewhat unconventional opera.
Deaf children put on an opera

The ordinary school day for a group of deaf children at Møllevang School in Aarhus has been turned on its head. The desks have been swapped for colourful props, big stages and noisy opera songs - things cannot possibly be quiet when deaf children put on an opera. The project is called “Listen to me” and is the result of a cooperation between the school and diverse artists, including a writer, a composer and an opera singer.

“We want to move outside our traditional boundaries,” says Mette Lauritsen, one of the teachers connected to the project. “Meeting professional artists with different approaches to the children expands the kids' self-image. We are not just dealing with their ability to hear, but also their ability to create and communicate art,” she smiles.

How can deaf children sing opera?

The opera is based on humour and, through the combination of many small parts, will give the answer as to how deaf children can sing opera. “It's something of a paradox to get deaf children to perform an opera. It is like the blind making a film - but these are the kinds of boundaries we, with a twinkle in our eye, want to cross,” says Mette Lauritsen.

This is not opera in the classic sense, in which the sounds are mainly produced through song. When the deaf children sing, there are bells ringing, rhythmic choirs, stomping, movement, trumpets and play - and in this way a symphony of sound is created, which makes the whole room hum and vibrate.

The children are centre-stage

The children have been a part of the project right from the start. They were involved in writing the words, planning the choreography and producing the props. Even though the actual singing is left to a professional opera singer, the children also play an important role in the show.

“The best thing about being on the stage is being able to say ”?sssh' to a real opera singer,” laughs Maja Elrun. She is one of the 30 children participating in the project. In the middle of the performance, she has to hush the opera singer so that she can read her text out loud and be heard.

The project gives self-confidence

“The children have got a lot from the project. They have worked side by side with other classes and this has forged a strong fellowship among them. They have worked with movement a lot, and have improved their sense of rhythm and control of their bodies. But most importantly, they have moved past their own boundaries by daring to stand up on stage and prove that deaf children can perform an opera,” explains Mette Lauritsen.

Many of the children participating in the project have cochlear implants (CI). This requires practice before the full results of a CI can be seen. Through the opera, the children become comfortable with many new sounds.

The project concluded with a dress rehearsal in front of the children's fellow students as well as a sold out evening show for parents and others who were interested.

Source: Teacher Mette Lauritsen

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