Story into Song with Opera Modesto

Designing Curriculum for Opera Modesto’s Story into Song

There is a lifestyle in which one is hired at age 24 or 25 and works there until retirement. I know this life exists, but I do not think it exists for my husband or me. Instead, we began growing our family, and with each addition, a significant shift had to occur within the family dynamic. My husband and I are both self-employed in the arts in one form or another. He is a teacher, an organist, a windchime maker, and a composer. I am a housewife, a home educator, a reporter, a sometime poet, a speaker and now, Curriculum Designer for the Opera Modesto Arts Education Program.

Story into Song

It makes sense, after all, writing so long and so often about the Story Into Song Literacy Initiative. I began volunteering a couple of months back to brainstorm ways to create a supplemental curriculum for the initiative. Through SISLI, Opera Modesto performs an opera based on a work of literature. They provide special student showings called reader performances at a low cost and with scholarships when even that cost cannot be met.

When the position opened up, discussions commenced. General Director Roy Stevens split one job into two hiring me for this position and Camille Iorns, for The Arts Education Program Coordinator. Thus each of us can do the thing we are most passionate about.

Time to start designing

I dove into reading librettos, listening to scores, contacting librettists, researching sources and piecing together ideas that make all that information easy to reach, diverse in the style of instruction and something that could both enrich the student’s experience and enjoyment of watching Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant in January 2024. Librettist E.M. Lewis based the opera on “The Norwood Builder” by Arthur Conan Doyle. Then she mashed it up with Jack and the Beanstalk. It sounds wild, but once seen how deftly she pieces it together, it makes the whole idea rather delightful, and I say this as a literary purist.

While I tinker away with Word documents, Iorns will contact schools and teachers to see if they want to sign up a group of students to come to a Reader Performance. The public performances will be at the State Theater in Modesto on January 13–14, 2024.

Prop 28

With funds from Proposition 28 on the table, Stevens hopes to be able to take this show on the road. Already, some theaters outside Modesto have signed up to host a day of performances.

According to Karen D’Souza, writing for EdSource, “Proposition 28 creates a guaranteed annual funding stream for music and arts education that equals 1% of the state’s general fund. In 2023, that comes out to roughly $941 million.”

Schools are still waiting to discover how this will all play out. The anticipation is excellent as teachers and artists consult to prepare preliminary budgets. Any student group, including private and homeschool, can sign up their group for a Reader Performance by emailing Iorns at

Ask your school what they hope to accomplish through the future funds. Voice the arts you wish to see represented.

It is a great opportunity. As the arts were often among the first areas to be slashed when budgets tightened, it is an opportunity schools have very much needed.

Greg LeBlanc interviewed former Poet Laureate Dana Gioia on Episode 266 of the unSILOed podcast. In that interview, Gioia, who grew up in Los Angeles, explained the valuable role of the school band at his high school. He saw it help underprivileged students who may have been more likely to go to jail than graduate, play together and find a place and connection in their life apart from gangs. Gioia described theater programs as avenues for children who may not fit in with other groups find their place and bring those qualities that make them unique to the general public, to be celebrated for it, and build lifelong friendships. I spend the morning interviewing graduating seniors as part of their exit interview from Hughson High School. Again and again, students said art was one of the most memorable classes—the arts matter.

And meanwhile, I’ll be tinkering away, creating reader guides and ideas through the rabbit trails linked to a creative opera. I hope we’ll see you there.

            Although an employee of Opera Modesto, this column was written separately from that work and was not sponsored by Opera Modesto, nor was I compensated by Opera Modesto for my time writing it. The views expressed here are my own.

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