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For your little Puccinis

Writing your own opera is a slightly unusual idea. But it's so much more creative than just taking a standard songbook off the shelf. Contrary to popular belief, young children love opera. It's visual, it's musical and it tells a story, so it appeals to any age group.

The course looked at how to develop stories, how to write music appropriate to younger children, and how to put together sets and costumes. There were about 20 of us, working with experienced directors, designers and composers, and in the second half of the week we co-wrote a short opera, then performed it.

Everything we learned has worked brilliantly back at school. At the end of this term our pupils will be performing War in the Wood, their very own opera. We're using simple instruments such as xylophones and triangles, but the effect can be impressive. The musicians become incredibly focused when they know the singers are depending on them.

A project like this hits a lot of different curriculum objectives. The writing is part of literacy lessons, and children have also learned about the financial side by contacting potential sponsors to raise funds.

And when we get creative tension between the costume designers and the actors ("I'm not wearing that!") circle time can smooth things out.

As part of the project I've also taken pupils to see a performance at the Royal Opera House, in Covent Garden. People thought I was mad, taking Year 3s to see Wagner, but they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mark Dearden is headteacher at Quethiock Primary School in Cornwall. He was talking to Steven Hastings

The details

Write an Opera is run by the Royal Opera House. Next year's course will be held at Dartington Hall, Devon, from August 16-23. Cost pound;375.


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