Tackling Tough Subject Matter Through Music

Voices for Tolerance at Warren Lane Elementary School (December 2016)

Voices for Tolerance at Warren Lane Elementary School (December 2016)

LA Opera has several programs that bring music – opera, specifically – into schools and into the Greater Los Angeles community. One of these programs, Voices for Tolerance, offers students the opportunity to explore tough issues through music.

In this program, LA Opera collaborates with teachers to create a multi-week, choral program that fosters a love of music rooted in classroom curriculum. Voices for Tolerance features themes of community building, social justice, and cooperative action. Projects culminate in live performance and have included original operas based on classroom personal heritage projects, choral recitals exploring folk and protest music from around the world, and a pageant inspired by the Greek Olympics.

Throughout this school year, LA Opera has gone into eight elementary schools. Curriculums are different for each school and include exploring cultural diversity in schools and exploring diversity through popular music and poetry.

Curriculums at Gates and Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary Schools have focused on civil rights working with LA Opera teaching artists Dr. Zanaida Robles and Dr. Kathryn Norring. Students at Gates Elementary School are exploring music associated with non-violence protests and movements as a vehicle for change. Students are singing songs in multiple languages including English, Spanish and Konkani. Students at Florence Griffith Joyner are exploring the music associated with the African American tradition, singing traditional spirituals such as “Guide My Feet” and protest songs of the Civil Rights movement including “We Shall Overcome.” This week, they will perform for their friends, family, and teachers.

Dr. Robles has worked with students through Voices for Tolerance many times. She teaches the kids the chosen repertoire, slowly building a relationship with them. As the students become familiar with the music, they start to understand its emotional impact and engage in challenging conversations about tolerance or intolerance.

“At the end, when the students know the songs, they ask, ‘What does it mean?’” discusses Dr. Robles. She continues, “The conversations that you get to then have with these students is the best part. They trust you and feel validated to discuss tough issues and then feel a stronger connection to the music.”

To learn more about Voices for Tolerance and LA Opera’s other programs in schools, click here.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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