New Victory Arts Break: Africa – Play

Welcome to our third week of exploring Africa. This week is all about play—playing with music, that is! Inspired by the musical stylings and operatic adaptations of Isango Ensemble, let’s have some fun learning how to warm up our voices, start an opera club and retell our favorite stories through song.

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Last week, we got to see some of the musical instruments that South Africa’s Isango Ensemble uses on stage, but there is one instrument we didn’t focus on: the human voice! In their operas, Isango tells stories largely through song—big voices singing with big emotions. Take a listen to a few excerpts below from their rendition of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (New Victory 2014).

With Isango as our inspiration, let’s start the day with some vocal warm-ups—exercising our breath, face muscles and voices—to prepare for the operatic activities to come! Follow along with this Arts Break video from April 2020’s Songwriting Week, led by New Victory Education Staff member Mia Sommese.

“Super duper double bubble gum” is a bit chewy to spit out, isn’t it? Keep practicing! If you’re up for more tongue-twister challenges, try these out:

  • Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?
  • If a dog chews shoes, whose shoes does he choose?
  • He threw three free throws!
  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Practice your favorite! Here’s six-year-old Kayle practicing hers:

Do you know any other tongue-twisters? Share your favorites with us on Instagram and we’ll feature them in our story—just tag us @newvictorytheater.

Tongue-twisters are a fun warm-up, but our voices can do even more incredible things. Singers spend years practicing and fine-tuning all of the magical sounds they can produce with their voices. Often, when we think of opera singers, we think of a specific kind of magic: soaring high notes, booming low notes and a classical, elegant posture. From London’s Royal Opera House, check out this introduction to the range of voices you might hear in an opera. Then delve deeper into each vocal range with these examples:

  • Audra McDonald, a soprano, singing with the Boston Pops for PBS’s Evening at Pops
  • Marian Andersen, a contralto, singing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939
  • The Three Tenors, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, singing “O Sole Mio”
  • Markel Reed, a baritone and resident artist with Utah Opera, singing in Operas from the Hive

What’s your vocal range? Sing along with the notes in this video exercise from Jacobs Vocal Academy to find the top and bottom of your range and figure out what part you would sing.

After watching through these videos, reflect in your New Victory Notebook:

  • What is similar about the way these opera singers perform? What is different?
  • There are so many different vocal ranges! What do you feel when someone sings a song with really high notes? What about songs with really low notes?
  • Think of a song you like to sing. Does your voice make really high or low notes when you sing that song? How does that make you feel?
  • What kinds of stories are these songs telling? How do the singers’ voices help tell those stories?

Opera Club

Now it’s your turn to start telling stories dramatically through music and share your love of opera—it’s time to form an opera club! Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artists Christina Eskridge and Signe Harriday as they invent a club and explore their vocal storytelling abilities!

Are you ready to start your very own opera club? Let’s go through our Opera Club Checklist, inspired by Christina and Signe:

Opera Club Checklist Members’ Names Signature Pose Warm-up Club Theme Lyrics

Let’s go through the checklist items one by one.

Members’ Names: Who will be a part of your opera club? Your club can be made up of two or more members. Write down all of the members’ names in your New Victory Notebook.

Signature Pose: Signe and Christina had their very own opera pose that they would strike while singing. Remember?

Split screen of two people clasping their own hands in an opera pose

Use this opera pose or create your very own. Maybe you sing with your hands on your hips? Out in front of you? Waving up in the air like you just don’t care? It’s your choice. Sketch or describe your opera pose in your New Victory Notebook.

Warm-up: As we learned earlier, warming up our voices is super important when singing, so of course it’s a vital aspect of any opera club! Christina and Signe came up with a great warm-up for their opera club—an interactive conductor game.

What do conductors do? They practice the art of directing a musical performance. In this game, you will need one person to be the conductor and another person to be the performer that is being directed. The conductor directs how high or low the singer sings by changing the level of their hand: a hand way up in the air tells the singer to sing high, and a hand down low tells the singer to sing low.

Here are New Victory’s own Siobhan and Jomary warming up for their newly formed opera club:

Club Theme: It’s time to come up with a theme for our first song as club members. Signe and Christina chose the theme of community. What will your theme be? Jot down a few ideas in your New Victory Notebook and vote on the one you would like to sing about together.

Lyrics: We’ve got the theme for our song. Now it’s time to add some lyrics. Based on their theme of community, Christina and Signe chose three words to use as lyrics: family, fun and food. What three words come to mind for you when you think about your theme? You can keep brainstorming more words in your New Victory Notebook, if you want to—they can serve as lyrics for future opera club performances.

Checklist complete! You are ready to start singing. Play around with singing your words loud, soft, high and low. Once you and your fellow club members agree on what the song should sound like, sing it together a few times.

We hope you have fun creating songs inspired by themes that mean something to you! Take a listen below to New Victory Education Fellow William’s song about nature.

Happy opera clubbing!

Let Me Sing You This Tale

From an operatic Aesop’s Fables to a marimba-filled Midsummer Night’s Dream, Isango Ensemble adapts existing stories into their own signature musical styles. Let’s follow their example and retell our own favorite stories in a musical (and epic!) fashion.

Step One: Grab your New Victory Notebook and write down all of the tales you have ever been told. Here are just a few that we came up with:

Notebook with a handwritten list on the page and colored markers

Here are read-along videos of each of the tales on our list, in case you’re coming up blank:

Step Two: Pick one story from your list and write out a brief summary of the story. We chose Cinderella:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived with her stepmother and stepsisters. They treated her terribly—made her do all of the chores around the house. Cinderella was a sweet girl and deserved better.

One day, the kingdom was throwing a ball. All of the ladies in the kingdom were invited. Cinderella’s step family did not want her to go. They tried all of the mean things possible to make sure she didn’t go.

With the help of some magic, Cinderella got to the ball and found her prince! She escaped her wretched home and lived happily ever after.

Step Three: Playing with low, medium and high notes, improvise a melody and retell your tale in the style of an epic opera. Have fun with it—don’t be afraid to make it silly!

BONUS: Enlist the members of your opera club and take turns singing lines from the story. Watch out, Isango Ensemble!

We hope you had fun playing with the stylings of opera this week. Where else can you inject a little opera into your life? Singing along to your favorite song? Reading from a cookbook? Scolding the dog? The possibilities are endless. Join us next week as we spend some time rewriting, remixing, recalling and revealing the connections between our favorite art forms. Could opera be yours?

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.