Hip-Hopera: Validation for a Hip-Hop Junkie

We are delighted to introduce our guest blogger Michelle Osterhoudt. Michelle is a mom, teacher, Oneonta City Council Member and social justice advocate. She also serves as Educational Chair of her local NAACP and listens to hip-hop music almost every day.

When I was asked by my friend, Professor Eddy Francisco Alvarez of SUNY Oneonta, to join him on a TAP (Teacher Advisory Panel) to work with The Glimmerglass Festival on a hip-hopera curriculum project,  I vehemently said, “YES!” Not only is Eddy an inspiration, he is a professor who has heart, is passionate about teaching, and is dedicated to his students. Named as one the “40 under 40, Inspirational Professors” by Nerd Wallet, Eddy like myself, is a lover of hip-hop. “It’s a part of my life story,” he says. And because both of us grew up watching and listening to the evolution of hip-hop and replicating the culture, this is one of the many ways that Eddy and I simply connect as friends.  You could say this is one of the many ways he “gets” me.

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Photo: Provided by Michelle Osterhoudt

Music inspires, motivates, and gives hope. Let’s face it, it gives us “all the feels.”  Hip-hop is no exception. Yet, being in academia, and being a person of color, we are always charged with the task of constantly trying to prove our intelligence — as if rollin’ through the hood, bumpin’ a  little Tupac makes us less intelligent, more intimidating, or taken less seriously. Why do I listen to hip-hop? For one, I grew up with it. Also, I can relate metaphorically to the verses, “My momma didn’t raise no fool, and as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped, and never lay back.” (From “Changes,” by Tupac). These lyrics appeal to me because they speak of judgment, referencing stereotypes and prejudice — all of these are a part of my life story. “Strapped” could be a metaphor for educated, intelligent, or maybe even “on guard.” I’m an English teacher — I tend to make these connections to literature and music. And while my story is much different than Tupac’s, I own it — and figuratively it connects to his.

But what does this have to do with opera? The Glimmerglass Festival has commissioned Paige Hernandez to write an original libretto titled “Stomping Grounds.” This hip-hopera will world premiere at The Glimmerglass Festival in the spring of 2017. Paige Hernandez is an acclaimed director, performer, choreographer and teacher — coined by Huffington Post as a “Classroom Hero” for her outstanding arts integration and work with STEAM initiatives. Stomping Grounds is her latest masterpiece. Paige has worked with hip-hop as a muse for teaching through performance for audiences young and old for years. She is an educator, performing artist, and an inspiration. When I looked her up online, I knew that not only did I NEED to work on this project, I needed to meet her.

Eddy and I are essentially tasked with creating a curriculum and sharing resources that can be adapted for students in grades eight-12 to go along with Stomping Grounds. This curriculum will largely focus on the art of storytelling through hip-hop and improvisational activities that will supplement readings and lessons already used in the classroom.  Eddy and his students will work with my eighth-grade students in the classroom, introducing my middle school kids to the art of storytelling.  Our work will be a marriage of hip-hop, literature, music, art performance, and opera. When it is all said and done, our students will get to experience watching  part of Paige Hernandez’s  original libretto.

This marriage of hip-hop and opera is not an unlikely one — after all, music of all genres tells a story. We live, create, and relate to these stories. That’s why music touches us, resonates with us, and stays with us. My particular love is hip-hop. The marriage of hip-hop and opera gives ME validation. No one can deny the air of sophistication that comes with opera. My love of  hip-hop, along with my appreciation of opera and art and how they relate to each other — coming together at The Glimmerglass Festival, a world-renowned opera house, will be powerful. And as my students say in typical teen slang, completely borrowed from hip-hop culture — “it’s gonna be lit.”

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