This Staff Chat first appeared in Seattle Opera’s program for Fidelio in October 2012. Barbara Lynne Jamison became Seattle Opera’s Director of Education & Community Engagement in May 2015.
Youth Programs Manager Barbara Lynne Jamison recently spoke to me about some exciting new education programs at Seattle Opera, about her own background as a musician, and about what happens when young people find their voice.
You’ve been out and about in Seattle working with youth. Can you tell me about some of those projects?
We just completed our first Youth Opera Chorus Camp. It was amazing to watch teens prepare opera scenes in French, German, Italian, and English. Also, we have two new school programs: Opera Time is a literacy-based program for young, early readers. We sing and act out small stories. And in Our Earth, starting at third grade, students create their own short operas about their science studies.
Third graders write an opera?
Absolutely! They come up with the story and music. Teaching artists just facilitate their ideas. Simply asking, “How would you sing that?” yields amazing answers. They write it, learn it, stage it, and perform it.
What are the operas about?
One of my favorites was from a tide pool study— stars came to live in the sea after falling from the sky in a meteor shower. Students are so creative!
Can you give an example of a moment where you see this kind of education “take hold”?
It’s great to hear young people say, “Opera is fun!” Parents will say, “I want to go see an opera now.” They’ve learned that we can sing a story about anything, for anyone. I have a passion for teaching people to sing, because we all have a voice. We all have something to sing about, and singing helps us express ourselves in a way words can’t. In Opera Time, young children engage in vocal play to find their singing voices. Many kids vocalize on the playground...but bring them into a classroom, and they leave their freedom outside. There’s a disconnect. I love helping make this connection and watching kids sing, particularly when they previously were afraid of it.
What kind of reaction do you get from parents and educators?
Teachers have said, “Students participate who don’t normally participate in class activities.” From parents I’ve heard, “My child never talks about school at home, but they’ve been talking non-stop about this project.” A common reaction is, “I want to come see an opera.” Love that!
How did you get interested in music and education?
Growing up in a family of musicians, I always sang, played the cello and piano. High school was full of festivals and competitions, and then I got a music scholarship to college. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. While I was getting my Bachelor’s in vocal performance, I had a church job, and they needed a music teacher at their school. I continued working as a teaching artist even after moving to New York City to work on a Master’s in vocal performance. Teaching was more than a job...I loved it as much as performing.
What kind of performing did you do?
When I sang my first Handel opera, I got hooked on Baroque music. It was different from playing Pachelbel on the cello...[laughs]. I fell in love with Bach, and kept singing lots of early music. Being a teaching artist and a singer was a wonderful synergy for me, but then I had an accident. Whiplash, which caused laryngeal nerve damage, resulted in vocal paralysis, so I had to stop singing. I recently had surgery, and I’ve started singing again. My goal is to give a recital in the next year.
Photo by Bill Mohn