Mission Opera Striving to Bring the Arts to Students
When you think of music, you do not realize the lasting side effects it may have on a person. We unconsciously see and feel it when our favorite song comes on and immediately, we feel a wave of happiness that has us singing at the tops of our lungs – often times very off key. But what happens when we create those sounds in a performance?
Studies have shown that participating in music can help alleviate emotional pain while promoting wellness. It is also noted that it can enhance memory, improve communications, and give people a way to express their feelings. Mission Opera, a non-profit arts organization, saw the disparities in musical opportunities for kids in underprivileged areas and since then, they have been working to do something about it.
It was founded in 2019 by Dr. Joshua Wentz, who serves as Mission Opera’s Executive & Artistic Director. Wentz has had a long history in the performing arts industry. “As a kid I would ask my parents to reward me with piano lessons rather than shoes and clothes, and as I grew older my passion for it grew, ultimately declaring it as a major in college.” Once in college he had a choice to continue with piano or study singing. “I chose voice because I have always been a good singer, but the only problem was my dancing skills, so a teacher asked me to try the opera program and here I knew I found home.” After graduating college Josh spent a decade as a professional opera singer before going to work for Mission College in Sylmar. It was here where he found that many students taking music courses lacked foundational knowledge that so many other students are privileged to get. “When I first got there [to Mission College], I had all these assumptions and it wasn’t until one kid eventually raised his hand and asked ‘what is that symbol’ on the board. It was a quarter note and I was shocked. I polled the class and many of them said they have never been in a choir, never had any music classes in elementary or high school. I realized then we had a lot of work to do.”
It was then that Wentz launched Mission Opera, an educational arts charity that brings music to students who might not have access to it in their schools. “We are an educational charity, and our goal is to bring opera and musical theater into local schools, especially low-income schools who don’t have much music or theater in their curriculum.” Prior to the pandemic, Mission Opera was putting on 3-5 productions a year and gearing up for their “Opera-in-a-box” program, a 45-60 minute show involving two singers, a pianist, and a “box” full of costume pieces and props to entertain and education children about opera and musical theater. Josh and his team of volunteers take the box, along with a portable PA system and piano to different school holding an assembly for students to learn about this incredible art form. Mission Opera has also worked to get children free tickets to see live shows downtown, such as the LA Opera and LA Phil. “It’s nice for me to get these kids into a theater and seeing something for the first time and getting to see their excitement and interest peak.” Things were growing exponentially, until the pandemic hit but like many organizations, Mission Opera found a way to pivot.
Before the pandemic, Mission Opera had a following of 500-800 people coming to see their productions but since everything came to a halt, Josh and his team had to find other ways to reach the children. “During the pandemic we crafted these two virtual lesson plans: one instrumental to target the band and orchestra teachers, and one vocal for the choir and theater teachers. We partnered with the Hart District and taught students through Zoom.” Now that things are opening back up, Mission Opera is looking for the community’s support in relaunching their productions and owe a huge thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors that have been the gracious in these very unprecedented times. “Like most non-profits we are in need of necessary funds to continue our programs. We are incredibly grateful to all of the Santa Clarita residents that have been involved with us since we started: orchestras, stagehands, electricians, box office attendants and so many more, we are very grateful for their help.”
To support this organization and see how you can be a part of Mission Opera, please visit the website: www.missionopera.com
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