Released: November 29, 2010
By Asha Anchan
Lincoln, Neb. - Professor William Shomos spends his time teaching UNL students the art of opera and vocal performance, but during the fall Shomos makes special visits to Title 1, 5th grade classrooms in Lincoln. Instructing them in the art of opera and putting the technical language in 5th grade terms, Shomos primes elementary students to see UNL students perform exclusive showings of the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors on Dec. 9 and 10.
"I personally have a commitment to outreach. We're a public university and we have a certain responsibility to our state and our community," Shomos said. "I believe one way we can do this is bringing the young people in to our performances."
This is the 7th, consecutive year Shomos has directed this opera as a collaborative effort between UNL and the Lincoln Public Schools.
Involving high school students in the chorus and using a 5th grader to portray the main character, Amahl, allows the young audience to relate to the opera.
Typically hosting a total of 800 students for 4-5 performances, Shomos said the elementary students have an up-close-and-personal view of the mixture of new and veteran cast members.
"In 5th grade, part of the curriculum is to hear about opera and opera is hard to explain unless you see it," said Linda Robison, vocal music teacher at Riley and Norwood Park Elementary schools. "It's not just an oral presentation. It's a visual presentation."
Robison has been involved in music education for nearly 39 years and said she gets excited each year for her students to experience the art of opera, which is usually not available to her students.
"These kids do not get as many experiences in their homes for many reasons, usually money is a huge factor, so the fact that they get to do this is very broadening to their horizons," Robison said.
But the educational and enlightening experience does not come without a cost. Shomos said the UNL Friends of Opera and School of Music join forces to fund the annual performance. Additionally, UNL students give their time to the produce the opera.
Senior and vocal performance major Cami Philgreen said despite the fact that the performances are before finals week, the experience and atmosphere of the production is unlike others she has been involved with at the university.
Looking forward to her third year as a cast member, Philgreen she said she enjoys the relaxed atmosphere and watching the students engage in the show.
"Usually who we perform for are older people and people who are going to judge our performance, but when we're performing for the kids, they're just so happy to be there and make these discoveries," Philgreen said.
While Philgreen may catch a quick glance of the audience between scenes, she said interaction with students after the program is when they come to life. Philgreen said the attention from the "star struck" students is fun, but she hopes her interaction with them helps instill an appreciation of the arts.
"Especially in middle school, that's the important time when you see what you're going to do and what you're going to be passionate about . . . they are old enough to decide what they're going to do and this gives them a good example of what it could be like," Philgreen said.
As UNL professors and students join forces with schools in the community, entertainment comes secondary to the impact on the audiences.
"I love doing it and interacting with the students," Shomos said. "The highlight for me is going around and looking in their faces after the production and that's something I can't articulate very well."
Performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors are free to the public on Dec. 11 in the Lied Center's Johnny Carson Theater at 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Call 472-2494 to reserve seats, space is limited.