I am so delighted to help bring together two organisations that have had a huge impact on my musical and artistic journey: Hello Music Studios and Victorian Opera. I began my first ever music lessons with Miss Karen at Hello Music at the age of four, while VO opened up the world of opera to me in my teens, providing me with mentorship and a pathway into the profession. I am deeply grateful to both institutions and couldn’t be more thrilled to bring them together,
On June 24 I will perform the main role of Zachary Briddling in Joseph Twist’s gorgeous opera for young families, The Grumpiest Boy in the World. You might know Joe’s music if you or your children have ever seen the TV show Bluey - he wrote the music for that! The opera is a really charming journey into a boy’s frustration at his own excruciating ordinariness. He goes on a journey filled with zany characters who just want to be friends with him - but Zack needs to find his uniqueness, his weirdness - the thing that makes him different! Joe’s music is great fun, without ever being simplistic. Here is a composer who truly understands drama and storytelling. There is a lot for grown-up music aficionados to enjoy here!
As an organisation, Victorian Opera has had education in its DNA from the very beginning. I sang in the company's very first production in 2006, the children’s opera Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten. This production was nursery for future operatic success, with a cast including Nicole Car, Stacey Alleaume, Olivia Cranwell, conductor Nicholas Carter, and, of course, my sister Janet Szepei Todd. The Grumpiest Boy in the World continues this tradition, with a cast and creative team made up of masters students from the University of Melbourne. The work is complemented by terrific education resources, available from VO’s website, and is the perfect introduction for kids to the world of opera and music drama. VO are even live-streaming the 2pm performance on June 24, and will hold a ‘relaxed performance’ on June 23 for guests with a disability or sensory sensitivity.
What a joy it is then to partner up with Hello Music and my first ever music teacher, Miss Karen. VO and Hello Music are offering discount tickets for current Hello Music students for the June 24 performance at 5pm. After the show, I will come out for a meet-and-greet with these mini-maestros, where we'll chat about the opera, and answer any questions they might have. Miss Karen and I are also looking forward to some follow up sessions at Hello Music Studios, where I will come in and share some more about the operatic art form, including a bit of a singalong.
Both Hello Music and VO understand that introducing children to music and drama at an early age can pave the way for a beautiful and enriching life with music. This includes making music, or just deeply appreciating it. I don’t believe there is anything inherently intimidating about Western art music, but I do think there is a need for people to be initiated into its conventions and rituals, so that they are not seen as a barrier, but a structure that enables these stories to be told.
My first experience of musical storytelling was at Hello Music’s Saturday ‘jam sessions’ where all of us little ones would play music together - the string players playing their instruments, and the piano kids played glockenspiels and other percussions instruments. For me, the best part was singing together, and the best song was ‘The Tale of the Little Green Frog’, written by Miss Karen herself. Based on a Korean folk tale, we sang the story of a naughty little frog, who always does the opposite of what his mother instructs him to do. Eventually, Mother Frog grows old and will die soon. To ensure her son buries her in the mountains, as is froggie tradition, she tells him to do the opposite - to bury her down by the riverside. The little green frog is heartbroken. After Mother Frog dies, he decides to mend his ways, respect her last words, and bury her down by the riverside. Oh no!!!
‘And to this day, the little green frog croaks, lamenting, mourning, worrying, that the rain will wash his mother’s grave away!’
It was a thrilling high-stakes drama for us little ones. The song was structured as a true music drama, with sung dialogue between the frog and his mother, the children singing their commentary in the style of a Greek chorus, and even ‘croaking’ backing vocals at the end! For a child to be part of such rich story telling is life changing. It certainly left a deep impression on me - I can still remember every single word and note of that song!
Music and storytelling are fundamental elements of the human experience. They have been integral to all societies and cultures since pre-historic times. Our children need this! Can’t wait to see you at the theatre!