Our Community Work
BxO’s Community Concerts and Collaborations
Bronx Opera presents over twenty concerts of all different musical shapes and sizes throughout the year. BxO artists have performed in all five boroughs, as well as Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Sullivan and Delaware Counties, as in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Highlights of these events include Bronx Opera’s annual participation in Hofstra University’s annual Italian Festival celebration, concerts at the St. Paul’s National Historic Site in Mount Vernon, presentations at the historic Walton Theatre in Delaware County (NY), and collaborations with Long Island’s North Shore Music Festival and Pennsylvania’s Buck Hill –Skytop Music Festival. In addition, Bronx Opera’s chorus is part of the Orchestra of the Bronx’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah.
BxO’s Community Outreach Work
2016-2017 will be BxO’s 21st year of bringing opera to Bronx schools through our Opera-in-the-Schools program. We work with 4-5 schools each year, bringing in 450-500 students through our three-pronged program, which works as follows: BxO brings cast members to three-to-five Bronx schools to introduce students to opera and to each of our productions. Students see a one-hour abridgement of the show during the school day, and are invited to attend full performances at Lehman on the weekend for free, with reduced prices for accompanying adults. Weekend attendees get a backstage tour forty-five minutes before each performance. Finally, in our program’s most unique innovation, we return to the schools to take questions and help the kids process their experience. In short, OitS seeks to make opera, and the people who do it, less mysterious.
In its first 20 years, OitS has worked with an average of 975 kids each year, for a total of approximately 19,500 Bronx students served. Among those students are several who have returned as audience members over the years, in addition to several who have worked with us behind the scenes.
Over the years, BxO, has partnered with several schools for long periods of time. Past partners included the following 22 Bronx schools:
- PS 5 – K-8 (Port Morris)
- PS 19 – K-8 (Woodlawn)
- PS 31 – K-8 (Concourse Village; currently)
- PS 46 – K-5 (Fordham)
- PS 91 – K-5 (University Heights; currently)
PS 153 – K-5 (Co-op City; currently)
PS 160 – K-5 (Co-op City; currently)
- PS 277 – K-5 (Mott Haven)
- PS 280 – K-8 (Norwood)
- Saint Brendan’s School – K-8 (Bedford Park)
- IS 219 – 6-8 (Claremont Village)
- JHS 80 – 6-8 (Norwood)
- JHS 162 – 6-8 (Longwood)
- KIPP Academy Charter Middle School – 5-8 (Concourse Village)
- School of Diplomacy – 6-8 (Williamsbridge)
- Theatre Arts Production Company School – 6-12 (Fordham)
- Academy of Mount Saint Ursula – 9-12 (Bedford Park; currently)
- Bronx High School of Science – 9-12 (Kingsbridge)
- Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music – 9-12 (Kingsbridge)
- Harry S Truman High School – 9-12 (Co-op City)
- DeWitt Clinton High School – 9-12 (Kingsbridge)
- Morris High School – 9-12 (Longwood)
BxO’s partners for 2016-2017 (as noted above) will be the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula (Bedford Park), Public School 31 (Melrose), Public School 91 (University Heights), Public School 153 (Co-Op City), and Public School 160 (Co-Op City).
After School Work in Bronx Public Schools
From 2010 through 2014, BxO received funds from New York’s City Council to work with JHS/MS 80. In each year, between 5 and 10 BxO Teaching Artists lent their expertise to the students, teachers and staff These artists (who included BxO staging, music and stage management staff, as well as performing artists) facilitated the preparation and presentation of five years of After-School musical theater productions. Our teachers assisted in the audition and production planning process; gave individual coachings; taught choral music; prepared spoken dialogue; and choreographed dance selections. We Our also ran most vocal and physical warm-ups and installed and ran sound equipment for the performances. Productions took place in June of each year, before the school chose to discontinue its after-school performing arts program. Our artists taught the students, and taught the teachers.
The following shows were produced:
- June 2010 – Annie
- June 2011 – Alice in Wonderland
- June 2012 – Fame
- June 2013 – Thoroughly Modern Millie
- June 2014 – The Immigrant Experience (A Musical Revue)
Ninety (90) students were involved in all aspects of each production, behind and in front of the scenes. When added to the 550-600 non-participating students who attended MS 80 each year (all of whom attended either at school assemblies or at after-school performances), this program reached well over 600 students each year.
This work really began BxO’s deeper involvement in community teaching, and showcased how our multi-disciplinary artists could work with students of all ages. These students were also part of the Opera-in-the-Schools program, discussed above.
Kingsbridge Heights Community Center partnership
2016-2017 marks the third year in which Bronx Opera will receive City Council funds to work with the Bronx’s immigrant community. Currently, BxO is beginning our second year working with the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center (KHCC), a settlement house in the northwest Bronx. KHCC works with a largely immigrant community; according to City-Data.com, 44.8% of Kingsbridge Heights residents are foreign-born (twice that of the rest of New York City), and 25.7% of Kingsbridge Heights residents speak English poorly or not at all (three and a half times that of the rest of NYC).
Last year, BxO’s teaching artists worked with BxO and KHCC staff to create:
- an After-School Choir (Kindergarten – 5th Grade)
- an Improv Group for Tweens and Teens (6th Grade – 12th Grade);
- a Dance/Movement Class for clients with Special Needs (Ages 5 -21),
- a Public Speaking class for Adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students.
The After-School Choir was divided into two groups, with Kindergartners through Second Graders in one group and Third through Fifth Graders in the other. The groups worked separately until the final weeks, when the groups rehearsed together. The Teens and Tweens group met and worked on theater exercises and scripted theater pieces. The Special Needs group was broken into two groups in a manner similar to that used with the After-School Choir. This challenging group focused on one dance combination and a couple of warmup routines. Finally, the Adult ESOL group on their English pronunciation, using singing as a vehicle to help improve pronunciation. These groups all performed at KHCC’s school year ending event at KHCC’s outdoor ampitheater . Video of this event (which took place June 15, 2016) is available. BxO looks forward to further work with KHCC, and to refining our work in the second year of this partnership.
Hudson River Voices – a Senior Choir at the Riverdale Y Senior Center
The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ SU-CASA initiative placed arts organizations in residence at Senior Centers throughout New York City. BxO was paired with the Riverdale YM-YWHA Senior Center, with the intention of creating a senior citizens chorus. BxO and Riverdale Y staff expected some interest, but it became obvious that we had all underestimated how enthusiastically this idea would be received. The group quickly grew from ten at the first meeting to a group that consistently topped 20, often reaching as high as 30. The more our teaching artist worked, the more the word spread throughout the Center. In addition to the group that came in to sing, there were always a few who came in just to listen to their friends sing.
Each week the group would work with BxO’s Teaching Artist on songs which included 1950s standards, musical theater pieces, 1960s rock, and other pieces. Some members of the group had previous musical experience (some of it 30 and 40 years ago); some were singing in public for the first time. The chorus developed so well that it seemed necessary to give it a name: “The Hudson River Voices”.
A concert was scheduled, and took place in the Center’s large community room on Friday morning, June 10th at 11:00am. 20 people ended up singing for an audience of 83. The repertoire chosen was as follows: “Get Happy”; “I’ve Got The World On A String”; “I Could Have Danced All Night”; “I Feel The Earth Move”; “Strangers In The Night”; “Till There Was You”; “I Want To Hold Your Hand”; “You Make Me Feel So Young”; “Moon River”; “Can’t Help Falling In Love”;; “At Last”; “Hello, Dolly!”; and “Lullaby of Broadway”.
We are already working with Riverdale Y staff to plan the 2017 concert for The Hudson River Voices. The groundswell of interest from Center users was incredible, and, for us, it was an inspiring program to create.
The Bronx Opera is a community organization which defines communities in a number of different ways. The main two definitions of “community” for BxO are the greater community of operatic artists in the New York City area, and our home borough. BxO has existed for 50 years; this has taken us through many different generations of performing artists (as well as many different generations of Bronxites). We have graduated many singers to the great stages of the world (over 200 on the MET roster over the years); that defines us. However, we are no less defined by the way in which we bring operatic artists to interact with, and teach, the people who live with us in The Bronx. We are in The Bronx, and we are also of The Bronx.