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SCSD High School Students Enjoy Syracuse Opera Performances

This is a photo of Syracuse Opera performers standing in a classroom with a group of Henninger music students.Music students from all SCSD high schools recently enjoyed a unique fine arts experience: an opera performance live in their own school building!
Thanks to a partnership between Syracuse Opera, WCNY and CNY Arts, the Syracuse Opera performed ‘No Cowards in Our Band,’ an opera based on the life and work of runaway slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The goal? To introduce high school students to opera while educating them about history, equity and inclusion.
“Bringing ‘No Cowards In Our Band’ into our auditorium for our students to experience was an intensely rich experience, packed with cross-curricular opportunity, and I received feedback from the students that reflected that very wide range of impacts,” Corcoran theatre and English teacher Greg Hipius shared. “Although many of our students love musical theatre, opera is largely unfamiliar to them, and it was rewarding to see so many of their ‘stereotype’ misconceptions replaced with experience. Several students commented on previously believing opera to be a very technical and inaccessible ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ kind of music performance, and were surprised at the passion, emotion, and characterization that the performers brought to their singing. Our students were also interested at how well the performance synthesized something engaging and new from history, making it have a more meaningful and memorable impact on them.”
Mr. Hipius noted that he thought the performance could inspire his students to take creative risks as they create their own original works this year.   
“I had never seen an opera in real life before, but I was definitely expecting something more like the traditional stereotypical operas depicted in movies, with all the ball gowns and warbling falsettos,” Corcoran senior Ella Roerden shared. “This opera was something different. I thought it was really cool that the opera was inspired by and developed from the Black Spirituals harkening back to times of enslavement in America. I thought it was creative to take that heritage and history and turn it into something new. That might be my favorite part, the recycling of traditions of the past, to tell the stories of that past.”
PSLA junior Asar Goodman agreed that the change of pace was welcome in sparking their creativity.
“Opera is different from what we’re used to hearing,” they explained. “I liked their voices. The woman’s voice was really nice, and the narrator did a good job. I like how they started to get up as they told the story. The performers were professional and I liked how passionate they were about the whole thing. I would like it if we had more opportunities like this!”
Students were also impressed to learn that one of the performers, Gregory Sheppard, now a world-renowned musician, is also a Henninger alumnus!
“It was also powerful for students to see a performance by a Syracuse City School District graduate performing with the group, someone who has gone on to professional success in the performing arts,” Mr. Hipius added. “This comes close on the heels of exciting news that a more recent Corcoran alum, Imani Williams, made her on-Broadway debut performing a challenging solo role in ‘1776’ at the American Airlines Theater! Those two examples serve as a great encouragement to our students, evidencing that, with their own passion and hard work, people from their own school community can reach the very highest levels of the performing arts professions.”
“I find it hugely inspirational that an SCSD graduate performed in this opera and is so successful,” Ella said. “I also appreciate the efforts of both the school district and the opera's coordinators, to be able to present the show to all of the district high schools. I think this is incredibly important because in an urban, public-school environment, where there are a lot of challenges to be overcome, it can be very validating and rewarding to see someone who went through these schools be renowned and successful. It helps promote the idea that anyone can accomplish anything if you put in the effort.”
Thank you to the SCSD Fine Arts Department, the Syracuse Opera and all who made this opportunity possible!
Anthony Q. Davis, Superintendent
725 Harrison Street
Syracuse, NY 13210
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