Students Compose Opera Songs For 'The Stories We Tell'

By Annika Cline
Published: Friday, April 8, 2016 - 4:51pm
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2016 - 7:13am
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
The Arizona Opera is collaborating with the Grand Canyon Music Festival and the Heard Museum for the project.

An upcoming opera performance called “The Stories We Tell” includes small operatic compositions, and the composers are not who you’d expect for the genre.

One song, called One Day at a Time, sounds like a classic opera song - reminiscent of Madame Butterfly or The Barber of Seville. But the content is a little different.

“Oh how the days of us still ring. Songs are playing on the radio. Ah, reminding me of you,” read Vanessa Naghdi, a soprano with Arizona Opera.

She read the lyrics of One Day at a Time, the latest work she’ll perform. It was written and composed by student Russell Goodluck. He talks about being a nerd and listening to the radio, not something you typically hear in opera. But Joshua Borths, director of education with Arizona Opera, said it’s not that strange.

“We tend to think of art that is older as kind of separate and siloed, but when you think about it, what it means to be a person living in Arizona, or whether it’s Seville in the 1700s, really hasn’t changed that much. There’s still basic truths,” he said.

Things like fear of failure, coming of age, unrequited love - those don’t go away. 

The company is working with the Grand Canyon Music Festival and the Heard Museum to showcase short compositions by four students. Eighth grader Sialik King plays the flute and just started learning to compose this year. 

“The scariest part was writing the vocal piece because I’ve been in chorus before but, you know, just as fun,” King said.

It was scary at first, but King realized this was just an extension of her love for music. 

“It’s just the thought of having music as one of my passions in life and being able to take it a step further and have other people listen to music that I wrote myself,” King said.

All the students are Native, and they’ve been getting help from Native composers Raven Chacon and Michael Begay, who traveled to different reservations to work with them. After many hours composing on paper, scribbling out and starting over, Begay said it’s time for the best part - for the songs to become real.

“The human spirit goes into that music and it fills the pages and it really brings the work to life. And watching that and feeling that, you want to keep doing that and you want to keep feeling it,” Begay said. 

King said she wants to keep composing; it may be her future career. She hopes her opera will motivate others to take risks like she did. 

“I want them to feel inspired that a little 14-year-old girl wrote this big opera and so they can do it themselves, too,” she said.

While many of her peers are expressing their feeling through Facebook or in diaries, sometimes a strong, ringing soprano is the perfect voice. 

“The Stories We Tell” will be performed for the first time at The Heard Museum on April 16.

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