Opera North Blog

What connects Carousel and Primary Schools?


Well, children love a fairground ride, but that’s not the answer. Opera North is the connection! Last week was spent with Opera North Education, busily visiting (and marking!) students delivering music workshops in schools. Ahead of the first preview of Carousel, we return to Opera North and the building is humming with preparation for the show. Quite a few children are also getting ready: they are mischievous during the Clambake number and then play the multiple children of Mr and Mrs Snow.

I am very pleased that Opera North features in my teaching work at the University (School of Performance and Cultural Industries): as part of an industry-facing module, one of the groups works with and is wonderfully supported by) Opera North Education for their music workshops in primary schools in Hunslet and in Colton. As we leave the Grand Theatre, we hear the first words from Carousel’s most famous song : ‘As you walk through the storm, keep your chin up high’ over the tannoy. By contrast, as you walk through the (rain)storm into school sessions, you will hear cheerful noise, activities to develop singing, rhythm and other important skills which can be taught through music: ‘My head is high, my feet are low, and this is how I bungalow!’ is an all-time favourite, but various songs about Tarzan, or ‘What’s for tea today? – Cold fish fingers!’ are also very popular. During the past semester, University students have been practising music teaching and leading, cueing, keeping pace and pitch and doing all this in an upbeat and communicative way, which will create a positive and memorable introduction to opera and music-making for the children. Lesson plans and education packs complete their work.

The children are busy making masks, as they are working on material from Cautionary Tales!, which they saw at the Howard Assembly Room in March. A great collection of scary lion masks (and of his unfortunate victim, Jim), of cheeky Rebecca who slams doors, of Matilda ‘little liar!’ and of Henry King whose mask is covered in bits of string. The sessions culminate in the children writing songs about the Cautionary Tales characters, practising moves to accompany them and performing musical interludes on a range of brilliant instruments made from milk bottles, margarine tubs, balloons and cardboard boxes. Craft time is over; children come back into the circle and a student announces another song. ‘YES!’ shout the children, some punching the air, as they prepare to learn a four part round with dance moves. When asked afterwards what they have learned, one girl says ‘I don’t mind singing in front of people any more!’ and a boy comments he’s learned about projection and has no stage fright now! They might be future members of the Opera North Children's Chorus, who knows?


Dr Kara McKechnie teaches at the University of Leeds and is currently completing her book on Opera North, which will be published by Emerald in 2013.

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