Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Philanthropic Initiative - Bringing Opera & Stories to Schools with the Occhiata Foundation

Great stories are timeless. Do you think kids would find the story of Carmen interesting? Without a doubt!

When my father passed away three years ago my family and I vowed to establish a foundation to bring opera to kids and support the production of American composer's operas. Our dream has come true and we are off the ground running.

We named the 501 (3) (c) foundation Occhiata. As an opera and symphony conductor and composer my father had a wonderful way o working with artist. His baton, hands, and eyes were his primary forms of communication. He had a signature warm wink and emphatic, "OK" sign he would give artists during rehearsals and performance. In the stillness of the moment of a finished piece; that liminal space of of silence you could feel the magnetic love rush out of my father's body to thank and appreciate the team of artists who had just collaborated together. It was their real moment of mutual gratitude. Gratitude for the music, gratitude for the talent and opportunity to play it, gratitude for working together, gratitude for the composer, gratitude for my father's leadership, gratitude for the audience listening. The applause was an aside. It was an intimate pregnant moment between my father and the creative space that had been created to bring the music to life. Such is the passion and love of my father which I feel is very much present today as it was when he was here with me.

How grateful I am for our many collaborations and for his wonderful example of tackling with patience, humor, humility, passion and always love the good, difficult, horrible and joyous exigencies of life. The Occhiata Foundation is here to perpetuate and share the creative energy he cultivated during his life. It is this intangible spirit we wish to cultivate and share with others as they give shape, form, and expression to their unique ways of experiencing this wondrous creative power that rests in the depths of each and every one of us.

Last Friday we began our kickoff pilot with North County Middle School in (Castroville, California). We are working with The Met: HD Live in Schools program.

This was one of my father's favorite operas and the first one he conducted on tour. I know he was thrilled we were bringing this action pact story alive for students.

Six hundred students were treated to a special interactive presentation. Starting at 7:45 we gave six presentations to groups of 100 kids. I fired questions a mile a minute at them and when I wasn't doing that I was hoping on tables, dancing around like Gypsy smuggler, prancing like a Torreador, leading a regiment of students through the auditorium as we simulated the children chorus playing our pretend trumpets, or having a student pretending to be Carmen throw a flower at me.

Utilizing a bonanza of digital storytelling vehicles I brought the story of Carmen alive in some interesting ways. Check out this video I produced for near the front of the presentation to show students some of the places Carmen has showed up in popular culture. This is sure to surprise many of you.

I was delighted by the students universal response to seeing other kids. Of all the clips in the video (you did watch the video now didn't you?) the children's chorus got the biggest response.

Opera is far from stuffy. Put the emotion of music and the punch of a good story together and you have a potent art sure never to disappoint. I was thrilled to see how the kids became enamored with the characters and stories. They made great observations and asked super questions. Almost none of them had ever been exposed to opera.

We also stepped back and examined the arts. I gave the students some bad news: "there are more questions in life than answers," than I gave them some good news: "the arts give us an incredible outlet for projecting our questions onto a canvas we can live with our questions in deeply satisfying ways. In the space of art we can live with contradictions, ambiguities, and paradoxes. I dare say we thrive in this space. We are empowered to inhale the sacred that fills our being with the light of possibilities and connect us to a wider audience of others embarking on similar journeys.

After going through the story I left them with this movie style trailer...

Occhiata Foundation has purchased a block of tickets for the students. In January we will be taking a bus load of students to a local movie theater to see the Metropolitan Opera's HD live broadcast of Carmen. Following the presentation I will go back and meet with groups of students to hear their thoughts and reactions to the opera.

Would you like to get involved?

Contact Franca Gargiulo - 415-564-2600, franca.gargiulo@att.net for more information to learn how you can help us expand our pilot program for next year.

The arts are dying in our school we owe this to our kids. We have a lot of unanswerable questions...

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