Help for libretto writing

Dear Teachers,
In anticipation of this Opera by Children season with you, I have been contemplating how I may be of assistance as you have your students write their story. Having written the piano accompaniments for well over one hundred children’s operas, I’m getting a good sense of what works well. I think about and visualize the children as they perform their opera and try to adapt their libretto to be very singable. I want to make the story they create fit into many little songs. It helps if when they write the story, they have a concept of ‘song’ writing. The following are some helps for you to facilitate your students in writing their libretto using many songs and minimizing recitative:
A song is a place where the character(s) STOP and sing (expand upon) what is happening, or what they are feeling. Examples taken from actual children’s operas will help to explain this:
Example one:
The Indians are trying to capture some monkeys. They sing, “Hey you, come and get some bananas.” At this point the monkeys could sing, “Okay, yum, yum, yum” Both the Indians and the monkeys have sung recitative.
To turn this scenario into songs, ask the students “what else can the Indians sing to entice the monkeys to come and get the bananas?” This, taken from the actual libretto is what the students wrote:
Bananas, bananas, delicious bananas.
Hey you monkeys, come and get them.
Don’t go hungry, they’re waiting for you.
Bananas, bananas, delicious bananas.
Then the monkeys sing:
Bananas, bananas, we like bananas.
Let’s go get em, they look so good.
Bananas, bananas, we like bananas,
Yum, yum, yum, so delicious.
Example two:
The characters are traveling through time. Instead of just a music bridge where they act like they are going somewhere, they sang:
We’re traveling through time
To the future
We’re traveling through time
Who will we see?
We’re traveling through time
To the future.
We’re traveling through time
Who will we see?
In visually scanning the libretto, it is easy to see if it is written in song or in recitative.
Example three: Recitative
Singers: What’s happening?
Athletes: Where are we”
Cheerleaders: How did we get here?
Dancers: It looks like we are inside the T.V.
Singers: How are we going to get out?
This opera went on for four pages, single spaced just like this. The students used much imagination in creating the story, BUT it was very difficult to set it to music and
it was difficult for them to remember and to sing.
When you encounter conversation or recitative like this, combine the characters to sing a song accomplishing the same thing i.e.
All: Where are we?
How did we get here?
What is happening?
Are we inside the T.V.
When are we going to get out?
Who can help us?
Who, what, when, where, why?
(I did not make up this song. I remembered it from a different opera
and adapted it to this scenario.)
I hope this will be helpful as you facilitate your students in writing their stories. If you have questions or your students “get stuck” along the way, email me and perhaps I can help.
Thank you again for doing Opera by Children with your class.
Nancy Griffin,  Music Specialist

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