Walla Walla Community College teacher on opera: 'Everyone has it in them'

For the second year in a row, WWCC students will perform an opera created by their instructor.

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Kristin Vining at keybords be hind her is Major Ilaoa(at left), Emilio Lara (center), Jeannie Gagnon(right). 3-1--11

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Students bow at the end of a session rehearsing "Cartes Postales."

WALLA WALLA -- Voice students, music students and art students will collaborate this week to put together an original opera at Walla Walla Community College.

The shows, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, will be presented "in the round" at the rotunda of the college's William A. Grant Water and Environmental Center. The rounded space, with its high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows against one wall, will hold about 80 audience members. They will get an intimate and close-up showing of "Cartes Postales," the French-themed opera written and composed by Kristin Vining, a music instructor at the college.

The production marks the second opera put on by students at the school. Last year, Vining wrote the story and composed music for "Cendrillon," a story inspired by the Cinderella fairy tale and also set in France.

Through song, dance, some casual acting and artwork, the students will take viewers on a "postcard" trip through Paris, France. The performers will present odes to sights of Paris, like a busy Metro, a stroll through the Louvre, a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral and along La Seine.

Dancing is incorporated with many of the songs, with choreography by Morgane Filan, a past student who worked with Jones and Vining on "Cendrillon."

Julie Jones, who teaches voice at the college, said the opera productions are unique because students are asked to participate as part of their class. Meaning, no one auditioned for a part -- they were simply told about the upcoming production, and started learning dances, brief acting parts, stage presence and direction, along with learning the original songs.

"They signed up for a class," Jones said. "And just like they did last year, they ended up doing a show."

From a learning standpoint, preparing the show is enabling collaboration between classes, and getting students to try elements of the stage new to them.

"They're dancing, they're singing, they're acting," Vining said. "But another part of that model is to be as authentic and natural as possible."

The show will include students from Jones' voice and vocal ensemble classes, and Vining's music fundamentals class. The space will also feature student art works that capture scenes from France.

Vining said part of her inspiration for writing "Cartes Portales" came from working with the voice students.

"This group is particularly inspirational," she said. "I'll write things with particular students in mind."

Kieron Wassenaar, who was also part of "Cendrillon" last year, said doing the shows has boosted his confidence as a singer and performer. He said the intimate setting of "Cartes Postales" is also helping him as he prepares for some solos.

"A lot of my solos had to do with getting in touch with the audience, and since we're doing this in the round it really allows me to do that," he said.

Lisa Thursby, a freshman, said she was initially worried about putting on a show, and in particular, dancing.

"After I got over the shock I got so excited," she said. "I'm even enjoying the dancing, which is usually the part I dread."

The students also borrow inspiration from Vining, whose songs capture the romance, fun and excitement of Paris.

"It's extra special since she wrote it," said student Jeannie Gagnon, who completes her associate's degree this spring. "I think it's so beautiful, and she's so talented."

There are several, quick songs making up the show, each capturing the unique setting of a Paris landmark. Jones said using everyday locations, like the Metro, for the show reinforces music and song as a casual, everyday thing.

"That's part of our inspiration, that music is just emerging from a normal place," Jones said.

She said acting and performing, although not what her voice students had in mind as part of the class, is also something common and pleasurable that anyone can experience.

"This is natural," Jones said about performing. "Everyone has it in them."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.


If you go

Shows are Tuesday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the college's Water and Environmental Center. Seating is limited. To reserve a seat, e-mail Denise Marr at denise.marr@wwcc.edu.

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