This class started by analyzing the personal empowerment themes and figurative language in pop songs with reading the short story “The Lottery”, but soon informed us that they were not interested in either of these topics. They wanted to talk about forgiveness, they said when we asked them. Based on portfolio essays Miss Lisa directed them to write over the next three class periods (How and why do we forgive? How does it feel when we are holding a grudge? How do we feel when we receive forgiveness?) it became clear that bullying and personal traumas at home were making forgiveness a relevant skill and immediate concept for these these children. Because their instructor wanted us to focus on figurative language, we consistently requested use of simile, metaphor, light versus darkness imagery, hyperbole, personification, etc.. in their essays.
We then began working with the forgiveness scene from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and the non-repentant finale of “Don Giovanni” in order to set the stage for forgiveness as represented in music. The final project will involve non-traditional scoring of these scenes and composition in Garage Band.
After the students had written several essays about forgiveness, Miss Lisa, a former opera singer, introduced them to the forgiveness scene in The Marriage of Figaro and the final scene in Don Giovanni, in which he does not repent. Mozart’s operas all address redemption in some way (Nicholas Till, Mozart and the Enlightenment) and we needed to focus the students on the expression of this concept in classical music. To our surprise, and to that of Dr. Larry Scripp, a researcher from New England Conservatory of Music who happened to be visiting our class the first day of the opera viewing, the kids were totally attentive and curious about the opera. They were not sure whether the Count was sincere in asking for forgiveness or not.
This particular project will be featured in a research article by Dr. Larry Scripp for :
Some students thought that forgiveness was a bad idea.
This student, formerly non-attentive in class and often disruptive, wrote an excellent essay. His father has abandoned him. He is not sure if he can forgive him.
Using figurative language to describe anger and forgiveness
We then progressed to using non-traditional scoring, which this class experimented with last year, to represent the two operatic scenes. They are struggling with this abstract approach to learning, being using to rote preparation or written work in their homeroom.
The students asked if they could continue watching the operas in class! We presented selected scenes from a version of Don Giovanni set in the New York projects, starting with a basic “elements of opera” writing activity. Then we discussed remorse, for instance: Does Don Giovanni feel remorse for killing the Commendatore? Does Leporello feel guilty for being a “bystander” and accomplice in Don Giovanni’s crimes? Should Don Ottavio feel remorse for swearing to avenge the murder? We then compared the bystander phenomenon to bullying or other situation the students might have witnessed, but in which they might not have intervened. They continue to be fascinated by opera.
Students plotted the major events in a short opera scene from Figaro on a graph, then attempted to graph musical elements such as dynamics, range, and instrumentation to see how they correlated with the dramatic timeline.
Roderrick discusses further work on Don Giovanni and the concept of remorse, here:
This student excelled. He has done this activity before with us.
Here is a video of Joshua explaining his score to Miss Lisa:
Many students were frustrated on the first attempt or basically copied the modeling on the board rather than actually problem-solving.
Samantha and Maria explain why they enjoy watching Don Giovanni, here: