Schoolchildren from across north east Wales hit the high notes with a top US opera soprano at a one-day singing workshop.
The annual, free event, held at Glyndŵr University’s William Aston Hall, involved 750 youngsters aged between seven and 11 and was organised by CânSing, a not for profit organisation which promotes singing in schools, in partnership with Welsh National Opera (WNO).
Pupils from schools in Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire took part, many of whom already benefit from CânSing which provides comprehensive resources on a vast array of songs to encourage schools to make more of singing in the classroom.
The organisation is funded mainly through grants and partnerships with other organisations such as WNO. The event was led by CânSing’s Jenny Pearson with colleague Helen Woods on the piano.
Singing sensation Stacey Wheeler, originally from Indiana, Pennsylvania, who now lives in Cardiff with top tenor husband Gwyn Hughes Jones and sings with WNO helped prep the children ahead of a mini performance they gave to special guests later in the day.
She also performed the aria O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi to her spellbound audience of budding young singers.
During the event, she told the children how she started singing when she was their age and how anyone with a passion for singing, who trained hard, could learn how to sing opera.
Speaking afterwards, she said: “It was really impressive to see such enthusiasm and when they all came together, singing the different parts and singing in harmony, it was just a joy to be there and hear it.
“I was really impressed to hear the children’s singing and how enthusiastic they were. When they all sing together in harmony, it was just a joy to be there.
“It was wonderful to see the children’s reactions to my singing. That’s what it is all about. It may be that this is the first time many of them have heard an operatic voice live and when you see your young audience spellbound like that, with their mouths open and their eyes wide, it reminds you that music and the voice has the power to transport them to a realm of magic that they may never have been to before.”
On the operatic theme, one of the songs the children sang themselves during the workshop was the farewell song from Mozart’s The Magic Flute which was part of Welsh National Opera’s spring season.
Morgana Warren-Jones, WNO youth and community projects leader, and accomplished mezzo soprano herself, said: “We are proud to be a main partner in this CânSing event because it is a really good opportunity for us to connect with schoolchildren across North Wales and show them and their teachers that it is possible to learn quickly and enjoy opera.
“With the use of the excellent CânSing resources, these children were picking up and learning songs within 10 minutes.
“It helps us to break down barriers and show people that opera is not elitist but it can be accessible and bring some fantastic new experiences to the classroom which benefit everybody.”
Suzanne Barnes, Director of CânSing, who organised the free event, said she was always on the hunt for new sponsorship to continue the organisation’s valued work.
She added: “It’s a brilliant event and a real team effort from everyone involved. It is special because it allows us to expose these young people to different genres of music and it’s why the partnership with Welsh National Opera is so important.
“It gives these children access to a type of music they wouldn’t perhaps have the chance to experience otherwise.
“If it helps inspire just one child in the audience to think what Stacey does might be a possibility and seeing that very positive role model up there on stage, singing so beautifully, then that would be fantastic.
“All the children involved today have been great and really given it their all. Their schools should be very proud of them.
“For many families, accessing music outside of the school environment is difficult, particularly when costs are involved. This is why we work hard to ensure we can offer our resources and events without cost to the school or individual.”
Ceri Davies, year five teacher at Borras Park Community Primary School in Wrexham, said: “We love coming to this event because it gives the children an opportunity, not just as a school but with other children from the region too, to join in together, sing and experience something different like opera that they wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to focus on.
“Music like opera can sometimes feel out of reach, not just for the children but also in terms of teaching it in schools, but when you come to this event you see that it is possible and how much the children enjoy it.”
Borras Park pupil Finley Benson, 10, who is in the school’s choir and likes to ‘sing along to the radio at home’ said: “We all thought Stacey was a great singer and it was very interesting to learn from her what it is like to sing. I would like to try more opera songs now.
“I enjoyed doing the Welsh songs too, mainly because it helps me to develop and practice the Welsh language so I can continue to speak it better.”
For more information about Welsh National Opera, go to www.wno.org.uk