Young Composers Take Note

Is there a Handel, Verdi or Puccini in our midst? A peek inside the middle school music room revealed fifth grade maestros hard at work on their upcoming puppet opera, a beloved annual Masters tradition that is the culmination of a yearlong interdisciplinary study of ancient Egypt and opera.

Students have been studying basic music theory: notation, dynamics, tempo, articulation, rhythm and meter with music teacher Katie Meadows. After a keyboard unit, they select a god or goddess to serve as their puppet character for the opera. 

“Drawing from their knowledge of music theory and keyboard skills, students noodle around with a variety of melodies in search of their character’s leitmotif or ‘musical theme,’” Meadows explained. “Leitmotifs date back to the time of late-19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, who used this kind of musical signature to identify a character or theme in an opera.”

For Hunter Smith, getting the notes and theme “just right” was the most challenging part. “My musical theme is a dark and gloomy one because my god is Osirus, the god of the afterlife.”

To represent her goddess, Mut, the mother of all living things, Flynn Dixon landed on a theme with “a soft and flowy feel.” 

“I’m really excited how it’s all coming together: art class, English and composing the music is just so fun,” she shared.

Reya Ziegler’s puppet will portray Bastet, the goddess of cats, with a staccato musical theme because “she is always joyful.” For Ziegler, the music writing process has brought her joy. “I used to take piano and it’s been cool re-learning it.”

Students also work collaboratively to compose notation for their joint or group lines in the opera. They workshop with one another by reading and singing through each other’s notation. “I’ve learned how to help my friends and how to give them feedback,” Dixon said.

“There have been many ‘Aha!’ moments in recent weeks as students are starting to connect the musical dots. It’s exciting to witness the growth,” said Meadows. 

Art classes with Bruce Robbins and humanities lessons with Alison Andrus and Michaela Boller round out the curriculum before staging, lighting and costumes fall into place. “The Book of Thoth” premieres in May. Surprisingly, shares Meadows, “it involves a lot of popcorn!”