Schools are once more filled to the brim with students, but before the bells of local schools chimed to note that class was in session, 14 teens from regional high schools gathered for two weeks in August at Myers Park United Methodist Church for the Opera Carolina Academy’s Music Drama Workshop. Over the course of the two-week Workshop, students learned stage combat, breathing, and acting techniques as well as vocal health, all while having daily music-drama and repertory classes. Biweekly, local professional singers and University professors joined students for intensive master classes. The guest master class teachers helped guide students through songs and arias of the student’s choice to study throughout the duration of the Workshop.

The Workshop culminated in a performance of Brundibár, an opera performed frequently in Theresienstadt (Terezin) a Jewish ghetto in the Czech Republic during WWII. To prepare for performing an opera rooted in the Holocaust, Academy students met with Holocaust survivor Dr. Susan Cernyak-Spatz gain insight through her personal experiences and Jay Grymes, Doctor of Musicology at UNCC and author of Violins of Hope: Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour, to discuss historical context and the role music played during WWII.

For Academy student, Mikaela Craft learning the story and history of Brundibár was inspiring, “people used music to have hope in even the bleakest of times and [I] realiz[ed] that music should continue to help me find hope in my own life.” To process the multitude information the students were exposed to the Director of Education, Ashley Lam who oversees the Academy and its annual Workshop, asked the students daily to reflect upon what they had learned and participate in group discussions.

Each student came to the Workshop for individual reasons, but Mikaela chose the Workshop because she loves opera and believes that being trained classically will give her a strong vocal foundation that will allow her to sing any genre.

While there was obvious focus on singing throughout the Workshop, AJ Clarke, was surprised by how much the Workshop taught him about how to stay healthy as a performer. One guest teacher, Lori Sutton, a voice and swallowing expert at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, taught the students all about vocal health. Her demonstration included diagrams of the throat and videos of vocal cords while singing and while resting, to show students how vocal cords function. AJ learned during Sutton’s demonstration just how squeamish he was, but found it helpful to know what medicines and foods affect his voice so he can keep it in tip-top shape as he dreams of attending a conservatory one day. Mikaela, too, walked away from the Academy’s Workshop with a greater appreciation for proper breathing and vocal care, something that will come in handy as she continues to explore vocal performance.

Ultimately, the Music-Drama Workshop was both challenging and fun for students. The rapport established amongst the students was evident and each other’s company was the most oft-cited reason why the Workshop was such an enjoyable experience for participants. The Academy’s Workshop students walked away from their two weeks at Myers Park United Methodist Church filled to the brim with knowledge and two successful performances of Brundibár under their belt.