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Addiction Crisis Through a Mother’s Eyes

The founders of Opera del Sol discuss how music is an important tool that helps people express themselves and find comfort in both the brightest and darkest moments.

How Music Can Help Heal Wounds of Addiction:

Addiction Crisis Through a Mother’s Eyes

Estimated watch time: 33 mins

Available credits: none

Presentation Materials:

  1. Nicole Dupre, founder and creative director of Opera de Sol
  2. Theresa Smith-Levin, executive director of Opera de Sol
  3. Nishaa Johnson, artistic director of Opera de Sol

Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems. 

Nicole:

Thank you so much, everybody, for joining us today, and thank you for everyone who joined us last week as I kicked off this five-part series. This series is called “How Music Can Help Heal Wounds of Addiction.” We started that off last week with my personal story and how, over the last several years, I have had this incredible honor of using music and having this incredible theater group and this incredible music family get me through some of the hardest times of my life. I just started to tell you about a project that Opera del Sol put together called Requiem. 

We were going to debut at the Orlando Fringe Festival, and as we were putting that together, we were introduced to an organization called Project Opioid. Through Project Opioid, that is how we made this connection with Advanced Recovery Systems. During that introduction, we had the opportunity to perform a song after I told a brief telling of my personal tragedy having to do with opioids. It was really wonderful that Allison and the rest of her team — we got together and thought, “Well, she was so moved by that one small performance that we had done.” We thought, “Well, what can we do for September for Recovery Month? To use what our talents are, which is music, and be able to create a much bigger and deeper conversation throughout the month of September?”

So, I want to thank you again so much for joining us, and today, I am joined by two incredible women who are a part of the Opera del Sol family. We’re going to talk to them about addiction (the addiction crisis through a mother’s eyes) and tell you a little bit more about that project that we had put together around addiction and what that meant to each one of them as we put this together. So first, I’d like to introduce our CEO of Opera del Sol and Central Florida Vocal Arts, Theresa Smith-Levin. Theresa, thank you so much for joining us today, and tell everybody a little bit more about you. 

Theresa:

Absolutely. Thank you for the introduction, Nicole, and for Advanced Recovery Systems for inviting us to be a part of this very exciting webinar series. I am the founder and executive director of Central Florida Vocal Arts and Executive Director of Opera del Sol. Opera del Sol came into our family of companies in 2018. I met Nicole in 2017, and I remember the night that I met Nicole, we were at an event. I had hugged her and asked her how she was doing, and she said that her ex-husband had died the week before. So I met Nicole right after the tragedy — that loss and the toll that the opioid addiction had taken on her life. So that has sort of been an ever-present part of our relationship even. 

I founded Central Florida Vocal Arts in the hopes of building a better community through performing arts back in 2012, and when Nicole and I met and she told me about her vision for Opera Del Sol, it was a very fitting partnership. I’m excited to see it come to fruition, for us to be able to create original pieces, to be able to help our community in a variety of ways. None more so important right now than what is going on with the opioid crisis in America. So our hope is that through this work, we will help people to understand how prevalent this is, how it can affect anybody, and take away a lot of the stigma associated with addiction. 

We really could not do what we do without the creative mind that is Nishaa Johnson. Nishaa has been a part of our team since 2013. She was one of the first people I brought on board to this company, and she’s the person who is able to visualize how we take these goals and implement them in a creative way. I am a mommy of two little humans, and Nishaa is about to be the mommy of a little girl. And so I think, for both of us, part of the reason we’ve worked so hard is the vision that we can build a better future for these young people than what we have today. So, Nishaa, if you want to introduce yourself to this wonderful group.

Nishaa:

Absolutely. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here with you all today. I have, like Theresa said, I’ve been a part of the Central Florida Vocal Arts family since 2013. I’ve been the artistic director for Opera del Sol since 2018 as well. One of the things that I find the most passionate is education. So, this Project Opioid and our Requiem project that we were to premiere at the Fringe Festival fit within that. Everything that we try to do is to use the stories that we can to touch other people, to educate, and to really pave the way for the changes that we want to see in our worlds. Use our talents and our music to touch people in the way that it has done for us in our own lives. 

So, I’m just so thrilled that we are able to use this mode of communication through music to be able to tell this beautiful story. When we started to create this Requiem project, Nicole had come forward to us with her story, as she told you guys last week. For me, it’s just a real honor to be able to help her in this project. The fusion aspect I always found really fascinating in our musical world, as I would like to. So, I’m really lucky that I get to kind of take these ideas and put them into action. You’ll see a little bit of that today and in the future webinars, through that. 

Nicole:

So yeah, I’m so excited to have Nishaa and Theresa here today because Nishaa not only is one of our directors of our organization. She has done the most incredible arrangement of taking classical and pop music to tell this story, and I’m really excited for you guys to see a recorded version of a song that’s straight from Requiem. Nishaa, tell everybody a little bit more about why you chose this music and what it meant to you. Maybe we can show them — you tell them a little bit more and then we’ll show them — and then you can talk about it afterwards because it’s so powerful.

 

Nishaa:

Sure, absolutely. So, when we were thinking about the songs that we were going to choose, we had previously put together a small installment of pieces that we used for the Creative City Project, which was in downtown Orlando last year. As I was talking to Theresa one day, she said, “Oh, you know, this song ‘Rock-a-bye’ is one that I really identify with as a mother.” Knowing that we had put together the storyline and we were looking for a piece that fit that bill, I started to look at this piece. Which at that time, I didn’t know that I, myself, was going to be pregnant, so it was interesting that I’m the one who ended up performing this piece for this series because of that. 

 

But this particular piece is a fusion between “Rock-a-bye,” another song called “Havana,” and then it has classical elements that we use that show up in a different portion of Requiem. So you’ll hear some of the “Habanera,” which is a famous piece from the opera Carmen. There are some ostinato, which are repeated patterns that you’ll hear within the arrangement of this song. You have that kind of pop-opera influence that we were talking about before, but I definitely felt very connected to this piece when I arranged it and when I performed it. Because when you’re listening to the words and she’s talking about how she’ll do anything for her child and how she is willing to change her life, think that is something that I (you know, eight months pregnant) I’m willing to change my life and whatever. So it was an interesting circle of events, from Theresa recommending it to me choosing that and becoming pregnant myself and performing it so.

 

Nicole:

Well, awesome. I think that that is a fantastic introduction. Ashley, if you can show everybody this beautiful rendition of Nishaa singing “Rock-a-bye,” you’ll see the storytelling aspect of it.

(Woman 1 singing)

She works the nights, by the water.

She’s gonna stress, so far away, her father’s daughter. 

She just wants a life for her baby.

All on her own, no one will come.

She’s got to save him. 

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

Nobody matters like you.

She tells him your life ain’t gonna be nothing like my life. 

You’re going to grow and have a good life.

I’m gonna do what I’ve gotta do.

So rock a bye baby rock a bye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Rockabye

Rockabye

She found a love, way too early

He left her there with more than pain and her to carry

(Woman 2 singing)

Havana, ooh na-na 

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na 

He took me back to East Atlanta, na-na-na

Oh, but my heart is in Havana 

My heart is Havana

(Woman 1 singing)

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

Nobody matters like you

So rock a bye baby rock a bye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

(Woman 2 singing)

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na 

(Woman 1 singing)

Nobody matters like you

(Woman 2 singing)

He took me back to East Atlanta, na-na-na

Oh, but my heart is in Havana 

My heart is Havana

(Woman 1 singing)

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Rockabye

Nicole:

Oh my gosh, I was there when we recorded that, and even seeing it again, always chokes me up. It’s so powerful how you just were able to take so many different songs and just tell a story in such a small amount of time and just do something that’s so powerful. You know, I love being a part of this group of creative women and being able to be around people like you, Nishaa, that are just so creative and taking your musical background and just allowing yourself to feel and tell stories. 

Nishaa:

The only thing I was gonna add is just that you can hear that “Havana” in there, and when you watch the show in its entirety, that’s where she meets this guy that she’s talking about. The father of her child is in Havana, so they sing that same song at a different point in time with the “Habanera.” This kind of is a part that is actually a sort of foreshadowing. ‘Cause when we watch the story, it moves backwards. So, you would see this happening and then eventually, you’ll find out how she got pregnant and then how she met this person. 

That’s a part of why you see the other character come in. The character that I was playing in that clip was supposed to be a part of her personality — that’s a person who is kind of reflecting on an experience. Then that character that’s played by Olivia, and her character name is Liv in the show, is also there kind of adding her remembrance on meeting this person. So you get the aspect of the motherhood playing its part, and then the reflection on the meeting with the boyfriend or the suitor. 

Nicole:

Wonderful. So, I thought that that could be a really great way for us to open it up to anybody else that was joining us today. If you had any kind of questions or, you know, I was really thankful for some of the stories that were shared last week. We really know that music is one of those universal languages. That no matter your age or where you’re from, everyone has something, a song, or a lot of us have lost the ability or the drive to want to sing or to play instruments like we have in the past. We really wanted to kind of give everybody that opportunity to let you know what we kind of do and how we’ve used music to tell stories, and leave it up to any questions or any comments. And just kind of talk to you a little again a little bit more about how we use music as therapy, and how we approach the opioid addiction and the crisis by using music to connect with everyone. 

Theresa:

I see in the chat, Lindsay asked us, “How do you all choose the songs in the series?” I can sort of start that and then pass that to Nishaa. When any of the shows that we do are original programming, we start sort of with the story in mind. Like, where do we want this to go? When we very first got started, we did that backwards. We started with a song, then tried to fit a narrative to the songs that we wanted to do, and we found that was far less authentic and effective. So we kind of start with the end, “what is our story?,” and then go back and try and find music that fits that. 

Also, because our mission is in large part to make classical music more approachable, we try and find ways to sort of do that. Whether it’s choosing a pop song and then orchestrating it in such a way that it has a more classical vibe or — one of the things that we’ll share later on this month is some of the ways Nishaa’s actually worked classical music into these existing pop songs that you hear, which are really relatable to the general public because they’re a part of our culture right now. So Nishaa, if you could share a little bit about that component as well. 

Nishaa:

This particular piece was, like I said, it was inspired by Theresa’s own experiences with being a mother. So, that’s how this particular one was chosen. Some of the other ones that I’ve chosen — there’s a lot of listening that goes into the process of what I do. You know, ‘cause I’m trying to figure out, “Okay, how can I make this thing also work in this song?” Sometimes, I’ll find that, “Oh, it’s not going to work.” Or, Theresa will get a text from me in the middle of the night to say, “Hey, I finally figured out how we’re going to do this thing.” Unfortunately with the creative minds, sometimes that’s at the very, very last second. So she gets a lot of anxiety from me figuring out things almost when it’s way too late, but they always come together. 

Theresa:

I’m the planner; I’m the Type A. Like, I want it planned out, but that isn’t how a creative process realistically works. So I have learned both with Nishaa and Nicole to just sit back and trust the process and that it will come together.

Nishaa:

Yeah, and when it comes to doing the more fusion aspect of things, that sometimes can be more difficult. We tried to take more of a classical approach in the way that we sang. This particular piece, “Rock-a-bye” with “Havana” — like she was saying with those classical elements, they’re actually still in this piece as well. You have that “Habanera” in there, which is a piece for a mezzo-soprano from the opera Carmen. That piece, like I said, it shows up later on in the show as well. I also used a piece of Mozart’s Requiem, which we’ll get into. I think we premiere that later on in the series, so you’ll hear that specific piece as well. 

A lot of it is I hear a theme, and I’m going to use a portion of that theme and I’m going to elaborate and embellish it to make it something that works with the popular music that we are trying to fuse it together with. I hope that answers your question, but a lot of it is just very organic and it’s just the more I listen, the puzzle pieces just kind of fit together.

Nicole:

Some of these songs, too, that we chose for this five-part series were from the particular show. We thought that each one we could elaborate and really have a great discussion around these types of topics as well. 

Theresa:

I want to add on too, because the way Nishaa talks about it — like she listens to this thing — makes it sound like that’s something that most musicians can do, and it’s actually not at all. I’m an opera singer. I have a degree in music education from undergrad and a master’s in vocal performance. I teach voice lessons professionally. It’s actually a very unique skill to who Nishaa is, to be able to hear that and arrange that and bring that together. Which is why she’s so much a part of how this organization has grown, because the creative is coming in large part from the brilliance in her brain to create that. It’s very cool. 

There’s another question from Lindsey. She says, “How many people are part of Opera del Sol, and how can we know when other performances are happening?” Nicole, how many people are part of Opera del Sol and how can they know how performances are happening?

Nicole:

Well, we have four paid staff members, but we also have an advisory board and we also have a board of directors. We also have a Rolodex of amazing singers and performers that we have worked with before. So, I would say there’s about a dozen people that are really behind the scenes that really help us bring to life the organization. But then we, depending on how big the performances or what we are doing — it depends on how big the cast or things will be. Then right now with the pandemic, we are doing the best that we can to pivot and continue to figure out ways to use music to connect. Because I think that’s one of the things that we have noticed, and that’s why we continue to want to do things like this webinar series. 

We know how much music can connect with people and that it can help soothe different types of emotion, so we’re really working hard on the next few months on how we can think of creative ways to continue to perform. And not just for the theatergoers or for people who like to take in music. I think it’s also very fulfilling for a lot of us to still be able to perform. I’m not necessarily a performer or singer, but I know that every time that I’m in a production, just being around that camaraderie and being a part of that storytelling process is very therapeutic for me.

We have applied. There are a few things like theater festivals and things that are coming up. Theresa, do you have the dates? Do we know if we would be able to? We applied for a mini theater festival called Winter Mini-Fest. So hopefully, fingers crossed, we can participate in something like that. Theresa, do you want to speak on some of the other things that we’ve thought up as an organization and possibilities of possibly performing over the next few months? 

Theresa:

We’ve been able to pivot quite a bit. We brought all of our educational stuff online. We brought all of our performances online, so that’s been great. We just did a full production called Gender Bender that had an orchestra with it. Those tickets you can still purchase because there is a YouTube-stable link, so we still have that going on. So that’s great. We have been doing Facebook Live videos with other artists, so we’ve really done a lot of different things. 

We’re excited because in November, we’re hoping to do another digital cabaret that we’re hoping to premiere on Friday the 13th. Was sort of a “glam and gore” kind of theme. And then, hopeful to also participate in Winter Mini-Fest. I’m sure that we will be super crazy busy around the holidays, as we always are. So, one of the things that I think sets us apart: instead of just waiting for this to be done, which we have zero control over, we’ve decided to innovate and offer programming because that we do have control over. We can be the harbors of our own destiny if we decide that we will innovate and find other ways around this impediment rather than waiting for it to be done, which we cannot control.

Nicole:

I found the link; we were all getting frozen there for a moment. If you’re interested, I’m going to put a little link in the chat if you’d like to see our concert. Follow us for all those exact dates, and we’ll put ticket links and things like that. And Theresa has been so incredible about continuing, like she had said, to pivot and continue to take this online. It’s, again, talking from the performer point of view. I know that a lot of her students have been so thankful for the opportunity just to continue to sing for an audience online. She was having very, very big success with our Friday Night Lives. 

As a lot of us are stuck at home, and I don’t know how many of you have taken in performances online, I know a lot of us who would have thought that we’d spend so much time on a laptop and not our TVs during a pandemic. But it seems that you can get so many different types of entertainment and music. I’ve seen people have the opportunity now to perform with people from other cities, and sometimes, Theresa will have friends from like Seattle and New York and we’re all on it at the same time to be able to sing and still collaborate. ‘Cause we just, we know how much music can really be of benefit. I always love, Theresa, how you always talk about how much of an impact it has on your students and how music has always been that safe place for them.

Theresa:

Well, last week, you guys got to enjoy one of my longtime voice students. Sarah’s performances — Sarah Izola, who you saw in the video last week sing “Iris” — she is 16 years old. She’s been studying with me since she was in fourth grade, and she is one of my professional performers. She’s currently doing Hello Dolly at the Garden Theater, which is running through the end of the month. So, for a lot of our students, they may go on and do that professionally and pursue that, and they’re very serious about it. 

However, a large portion may not, and one of the things that I try and help our community to understand is, regardless of what your professional ambitions might be, the life skills and the comfort that music education can give to a student — for them to feel a part of something greater than themselves, for them to develop those empathic skills, to relate to a character or other human beings to feel seen in a part of something — those are skills that change the outcomes, the trajectory of their life, and really help them grow to become the kind of leaders that we need in our community. The kind of leaders that are going to bring us to a better society, that’ll help us solve some problems that we are working with today. So, I’m really passionate about the role that arts education can have on our young people to help us really improve our future. 

“How do you get over the fear of singing in front of people?” So, I’m just going to share a little bit and I’m going to pass it to Nishaa. I think, sometimes, people think that professional performers and singers are not afraid of singing in front of people; that somehow, we have magically glossed over that national aversion. We have not; we are all very afraid. Every audition I do, every performance I do, I have nerves. But I actually think it’s one of the skills that we help to cultivate in young people through education, that you can be afraid to do something and do it anyways. That we can do hard things. So I love to see when we do our institutes, our week-long programs. 

The first day of camp: sometimes, students will be really reticent to audition for us and they will try and refuse to do the app, but we kind of push them into it. By Friday, when they have to perform in front of an audience, not a single one of them refuses to do it. All of them have built up that confidence in themselves, with their group, to be able to put themselves out there like that. The reality is that’s another life skill that you will need for whatever you do: to be able to speak your truth, to stand up in front of a group, to have hard conversations, beyond the fact that you just do it. It’s hard. It’s really hard, and you just do it anyways. That’s for me, anyways. How about you, Nishaa?

Nicole:

I was just going to interject because Theresa is a voice teacher and I am not a classically trained singer. I recently started taking voice lessons from Theresa. So, I had taken a few lessons from Theresa and sometimes, I think it’s the learning on how to use your voice. And if you feel like you know what you’re doing, that’s where a little bit more of the confidence comes from, and that’s just from somebody who thinks they can’t sing. Yeah, so that was just me. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the lesson and having someone tell you how to use your voice. 

Nishaa:

To elaborate on what Theresa said with fear. The thing is, especially with performing, one of the things that I encourage my own students to do is to redirect their energy. A lot of times, you’re feeling fear or you’re feeling nerves, and it’s not because you’re not prepared to do something. You’re going to do it, right, and you want to be perfect. You want to put on the best performance that you can. A lot of times, if you redirect your energy from like, “Oh, I’m scared I can’t do this,” to, “I’m excited I get the opportunity to do this,” you will be okay. 

I mean, it doesn’t look like it when you watch my video of “Rock-a-bye” that I was nervous, but these two can attest that we restarted that clip about five or six times because A) I was nervous being pregnant and B) I can’t remember anything. But when you have people around you who are really encouraging, like Theresa, like Nicole, and you have teachers that are building your confidence that you are able to do something, then the performing, it happens, and you’re okay. The more you do it and the more you get the positive feedback, the more you learn that even if you do make a mistake, it’s all about what you’re presenting. Are you using your entire heart and soul to tell that story that you’re trying to tell? It’s more about the perfection of the voice. It’s about how you’re touching people and how you can reach them with the stories that you’re telling. 

Nicole:

Yeah, and I think that that’s something. If any of you, just like myself like I had mentioned, aren’t a professional singer, it can seem like, “How in the world can I ever do that?” I can tell you just from a few lessons from Theresa, I didn’t even know quite how to hold my breath or I didn’t even know a certain thing. And that little bit of like, “Oh, that’s how I’m supposed to do it.” Now, it gives me even just a little bit more confidence to feel like I can sing amongst friends — not, you know, when you’re surrounded by opera singers. I can attest to being the one person in the group that can’t sing. But now that I feel like at least I know that one little, like, “Oh, if I hold my breath this way. Oh, it’s supposed to sound like that.” Those little things. Sometimes, it’s just that we don’t know. I’ve always known that music makes me feel a certain way and how I want it to look, and that’s why I love so much our partnership amongst the three of us. ‘Cause I feel like all together, we feel this, or we see this, or we hear this, or we know it costs this, and then all together, we can create something magical.

We have to have a proper goodbye and thank everybody for being here. I didn’t know if everybody had a chance to say how we could. You can hear more about us at OperadelSol.org, and you can also link to Central Florida Vocal Arts and hear more about us there. I do believe that the link and how you can join us again for the next three Wednesdays is here in our PowerPoint as well, and I hope will be emailed to you. Thank you so much, everyone, for joining us. Thank you so much, Theresa. Thank you so much, Nishaa. For, you know, just the conversation today. I know that we’ve worked on this project for a long time, and I was excited to have such a bigger conversation with other people. So, I want to thank you so much. Thank you, everyone. Bye bye.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

Summary:

For the Opera del Sol team, music and other creative media are tools that help people express themselves and address all aspects of life — the good, the bad and everything in between. In this presentation, leaders Nicole, Theresa and Nishaa discuss music’s influence on life situations like addiction and parenthood, as well as how it can help those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing opioid crisis and other difficult events.

Presentation Materials:

  1. Nicole Dupre, founder and creative director of Opera de Sol
  2. Theresa Smith-Levin, executive director of Opera de Sol
  3. Nishaa Johnson, artistic director of Opera de Sol

Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems. 

Nicole:

Thank you so much, everybody, for joining us today, and thank you for everyone who joined us last week as I kicked off this five-part series. This series is called “How Music Can Help Heal Wounds of Addiction.” We started that off last week with my personal story and how, over the last several years, I have had this incredible honor of using music and having this incredible theater group and this incredible music family get me through some of the hardest times of my life. I just started to tell you about a project that Opera del Sol put together called Requiem. 

We were going to debut at the Orlando Fringe Festival, and as we were putting that together, we were introduced to an organization called Project Opioid. Through Project Opioid, that is how we made this connection with Advanced Recovery Systems. During that introduction, we had the opportunity to perform a song after I told a brief telling of my personal tragedy having to do with opioids. It was really wonderful that Allison and the rest of her team — we got together and thought, “Well, she was so moved by that one small performance that we had done.” We thought, “Well, what can we do for September for Recovery Month? To use what our talents are, which is music, and be able to create a much bigger and deeper conversation throughout the month of September?”

So, I want to thank you again so much for joining us, and today, I am joined by two incredible women who are a part of the Opera del Sol family. We’re going to talk to them about addiction (the addiction crisis through a mother’s eyes) and tell you a little bit more about that project that we had put together around addiction and what that meant to each one of them as we put this together. So first, I’d like to introduce our CEO of Opera del Sol and Central Florida Vocal Arts, Theresa Smith-Levin. Theresa, thank you so much for joining us today, and tell everybody a little bit more about you. 

Theresa:

Absolutely. Thank you for the introduction, Nicole, and for Advanced Recovery Systems for inviting us to be a part of this very exciting webinar series. I am the founder and executive director of Central Florida Vocal Arts and Executive Director of Opera del Sol. Opera del Sol came into our family of companies in 2018. I met Nicole in 2017, and I remember the night that I met Nicole, we were at an event. I had hugged her and asked her how she was doing, and she said that her ex-husband had died the week before. So I met Nicole right after the tragedy — that loss and the toll that the opioid addiction had taken on her life. So that has sort of been an ever-present part of our relationship even. 

I founded Central Florida Vocal Arts in the hopes of building a better community through performing arts back in 2012, and when Nicole and I met and she told me about her vision for Opera Del Sol, it was a very fitting partnership. I’m excited to see it come to fruition, for us to be able to create original pieces, to be able to help our community in a variety of ways. None more so important right now than what is going on with the opioid crisis in America. So our hope is that through this work, we will help people to understand how prevalent this is, how it can affect anybody, and take away a lot of the stigma associated with addiction. 

We really could not do what we do without the creative mind that is Nishaa Johnson. Nishaa has been a part of our team since 2013. She was one of the first people I brought on board to this company, and she’s the person who is able to visualize how we take these goals and implement them in a creative way. I am a mommy of two little humans, and Nishaa is about to be the mommy of a little girl. And so I think, for both of us, part of the reason we’ve worked so hard is the vision that we can build a better future for these young people than what we have today. So, Nishaa, if you want to introduce yourself to this wonderful group.

Nishaa:

Absolutely. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here with you all today. I have, like Theresa said, I’ve been a part of the Central Florida Vocal Arts family since 2013. I’ve been the artistic director for Opera del Sol since 2018 as well. One of the things that I find the most passionate is education. So, this Project Opioid and our Requiem project that we were to premiere at the Fringe Festival fit within that. Everything that we try to do is to use the stories that we can to touch other people, to educate, and to really pave the way for the changes that we want to see in our worlds. Use our talents and our music to touch people in the way that it has done for us in our own lives. 

So, I’m just so thrilled that we are able to use this mode of communication through music to be able to tell this beautiful story. When we started to create this Requiem project, Nicole had come forward to us with her story, as she told you guys last week. For me, it’s just a real honor to be able to help her in this project. The fusion aspect I always found really fascinating in our musical world, as I would like to. So, I’m really lucky that I get to kind of take these ideas and put them into action. You’ll see a little bit of that today and in the future webinars, through that. 

Nicole:

So yeah, I’m so excited to have Nishaa and Theresa here today because Nishaa not only is one of our directors of our organization. She has done the most incredible arrangement of taking classical and pop music to tell this story, and I’m really excited for you guys to see a recorded version of a song that’s straight from Requiem. Nishaa, tell everybody a little bit more about why you chose this music and what it meant to you. Maybe we can show them — you tell them a little bit more and then we’ll show them — and then you can talk about it afterwards because it’s so powerful.

 

Nishaa:

Sure, absolutely. So, when we were thinking about the songs that we were going to choose, we had previously put together a small installment of pieces that we used for the Creative City Project, which was in downtown Orlando last year. As I was talking to Theresa one day, she said, “Oh, you know, this song ‘Rock-a-bye’ is one that I really identify with as a mother.” Knowing that we had put together the storyline and we were looking for a piece that fit that bill, I started to look at this piece. Which at that time, I didn’t know that I, myself, was going to be pregnant, so it was interesting that I’m the one who ended up performing this piece for this series because of that. 

 

But this particular piece is a fusion between “Rock-a-bye,” another song called “Havana,” and then it has classical elements that we use that show up in a different portion of Requiem. So you’ll hear some of the “Habanera,” which is a famous piece from the opera Carmen. There are some ostinato, which are repeated patterns that you’ll hear within the arrangement of this song. You have that kind of pop-opera influence that we were talking about before, but I definitely felt very connected to this piece when I arranged it and when I performed it. Because when you’re listening to the words and she’s talking about how she’ll do anything for her child and how she is willing to change her life, think that is something that I (you know, eight months pregnant) I’m willing to change my life and whatever. So it was an interesting circle of events, from Theresa recommending it to me choosing that and becoming pregnant myself and performing it so.

 

Nicole:

Well, awesome. I think that that is a fantastic introduction. Ashley, if you can show everybody this beautiful rendition of Nishaa singing “Rock-a-bye,” you’ll see the storytelling aspect of it.

(Woman 1 singing)

She works the nights, by the water.

She’s gonna stress, so far away, her father’s daughter. 

She just wants a life for her baby.

All on her own, no one will come.

She’s got to save him. 

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

Nobody matters like you.

She tells him your life ain’t gonna be nothing like my life. 

You’re going to grow and have a good life.

I’m gonna do what I’ve gotta do.

So rock a bye baby rock a bye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Rockabye

Rockabye

She found a love, way too early

He left her there with more than pain and her to carry

(Woman 2 singing)

Havana, ooh na-na 

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na 

He took me back to East Atlanta, na-na-na

Oh, but my heart is in Havana 

My heart is Havana

(Woman 1 singing)

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

Nobody matters like you

So rock a bye baby rock a bye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

She tells him ooh love no one’s gonna hurt you love.

I’m gonna give you all of my love.

(Woman 2 singing)

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na 

(Woman 1 singing)

Nobody matters like you

(Woman 2 singing)

He took me back to East Atlanta, na-na-na

Oh, but my heart is in Havana 

My heart is Havana

(Woman 1 singing)

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Somebody’s got you

Rockabye baby, rockabye

I’m gonna rock you

Rockabye baby, don’t you cry

Rockabye

Nicole:

Oh my gosh, I was there when we recorded that, and even seeing it again, always chokes me up. It’s so powerful how you just were able to take so many different songs and just tell a story in such a small amount of time and just do something that’s so powerful. You know, I love being a part of this group of creative women and being able to be around people like you, Nishaa, that are just so creative and taking your musical background and just allowing yourself to feel and tell stories. 

Nishaa:

The only thing I was gonna add is just that you can hear that “Havana” in there, and when you watch the show in its entirety, that’s where she meets this guy that she’s talking about. The father of her child is in Havana, so they sing that same song at a different point in time with the “Habanera.” This kind of is a part that is actually a sort of foreshadowing. ‘Cause when we watch the story, it moves backwards. So, you would see this happening and then eventually, you’ll find out how she got pregnant and then how she met this person. 

That’s a part of why you see the other character come in. The character that I was playing in that clip was supposed to be a part of her personality — that’s a person who is kind of reflecting on an experience. Then that character that’s played by Olivia, and her character name is Liv in the show, is also there kind of adding her remembrance on meeting this person. So you get the aspect of the motherhood playing its part, and then the reflection on the meeting with the boyfriend or the suitor. 

Nicole:

Wonderful. So, I thought that that could be a really great way for us to open it up to anybody else that was joining us today. If you had any kind of questions or, you know, I was really thankful for some of the stories that were shared last week. We really know that music is one of those universal languages. That no matter your age or where you’re from, everyone has something, a song, or a lot of us have lost the ability or the drive to want to sing or to play instruments like we have in the past. We really wanted to kind of give everybody that opportunity to let you know what we kind of do and how we’ve used music to tell stories, and leave it up to any questions or any comments. And just kind of talk to you a little again a little bit more about how we use music as therapy, and how we approach the opioid addiction and the crisis by using music to connect with everyone. 

Theresa:

I see in the chat, Lindsay asked us, “How do you all choose the songs in the series?” I can sort of start that and then pass that to Nishaa. When any of the shows that we do are original programming, we start sort of with the story in mind. Like, where do we want this to go? When we very first got started, we did that backwards. We started with a song, then tried to fit a narrative to the songs that we wanted to do, and we found that was far less authentic and effective. So we kind of start with the end, “what is our story?,” and then go back and try and find music that fits that. 

Also, because our mission is in large part to make classical music more approachable, we try and find ways to sort of do that. Whether it’s choosing a pop song and then orchestrating it in such a way that it has a more classical vibe or — one of the things that we’ll share later on this month is some of the ways Nishaa’s actually worked classical music into these existing pop songs that you hear, which are really relatable to the general public because they’re a part of our culture right now. So Nishaa, if you could share a little bit about that component as well. 

Nishaa:

This particular piece was, like I said, it was inspired by Theresa’s own experiences with being a mother. So, that’s how this particular one was chosen. Some of the other ones that I’ve chosen — there’s a lot of listening that goes into the process of what I do. You know, ‘cause I’m trying to figure out, “Okay, how can I make this thing also work in this song?” Sometimes, I’ll find that, “Oh, it’s not going to work.” Or, Theresa will get a text from me in the middle of the night to say, “Hey, I finally figured out how we’re going to do this thing.” Unfortunately with the creative minds, sometimes that’s at the very, very last second. So she gets a lot of anxiety from me figuring out things almost when it’s way too late, but they always come together. 

Theresa:

I’m the planner; I’m the Type A. Like, I want it planned out, but that isn’t how a creative process realistically works. So I have learned both with Nishaa and Nicole to just sit back and trust the process and that it will come together.

Nishaa:

Yeah, and when it comes to doing the more fusion aspect of things, that sometimes can be more difficult. We tried to take more of a classical approach in the way that we sang. This particular piece, “Rock-a-bye” with “Havana” — like she was saying with those classical elements, they’re actually still in this piece as well. You have that “Habanera” in there, which is a piece for a mezzo-soprano from the opera Carmen. That piece, like I said, it shows up later on in the show as well. I also used a piece of Mozart’s Requiem, which we’ll get into. I think we premiere that later on in the series, so you’ll hear that specific piece as well. 

A lot of it is I hear a theme, and I’m going to use a portion of that theme and I’m going to elaborate and embellish it to make it something that works with the popular music that we are trying to fuse it together with. I hope that answers your question, but a lot of it is just very organic and it’s just the more I listen, the puzzle pieces just kind of fit together.

Nicole:

Some of these songs, too, that we chose for this five-part series were from the particular show. We thought that each one we could elaborate and really have a great discussion around these types of topics as well. 

Theresa:

I want to add on too, because the way Nishaa talks about it — like she listens to this thing — makes it sound like that’s something that most musicians can do, and it’s actually not at all. I’m an opera singer. I have a degree in music education from undergrad and a master’s in vocal performance. I teach voice lessons professionally. It’s actually a very unique skill to who Nishaa is, to be able to hear that and arrange that and bring that together. Which is why she’s so much a part of how this organization has grown, because the creative is coming in large part from the brilliance in her brain to create that. It’s very cool. 

There’s another question from Lindsey. She says, “How many people are part of Opera del Sol, and how can we know when other performances are happening?” Nicole, how many people are part of Opera del Sol and how can they know how performances are happening?

Nicole:

Well, we have four paid staff members, but we also have an advisory board and we also have a board of directors. We also have a Rolodex of amazing singers and performers that we have worked with before. So, I would say there’s about a dozen people that are really behind the scenes that really help us bring to life the organization. But then we, depending on how big the performances or what we are doing — it depends on how big the cast or things will be. Then right now with the pandemic, we are doing the best that we can to pivot and continue to figure out ways to use music to connect. Because I think that’s one of the things that we have noticed, and that’s why we continue to want to do things like this webinar series. 

We know how much music can connect with people and that it can help soothe different types of emotion, so we’re really working hard on the next few months on how we can think of creative ways to continue to perform. And not just for the theatergoers or for people who like to take in music. I think it’s also very fulfilling for a lot of us to still be able to perform. I’m not necessarily a performer or singer, but I know that every time that I’m in a production, just being around that camaraderie and being a part of that storytelling process is very therapeutic for me.

We have applied. There are a few things like theater festivals and things that are coming up. Theresa, do you have the dates? Do we know if we would be able to? We applied for a mini theater festival called Winter Mini-Fest. So hopefully, fingers crossed, we can participate in something like that. Theresa, do you want to speak on some of the other things that we’ve thought up as an organization and possibilities of possibly performing over the next few months? 

Theresa:

We’ve been able to pivot quite a bit. We brought all of our educational stuff online. We brought all of our performances online, so that’s been great. We just did a full production called Gender Bender that had an orchestra with it. Those tickets you can still purchase because there is a YouTube-stable link, so we still have that going on. So that’s great. We have been doing Facebook Live videos with other artists, so we’ve really done a lot of different things. 

We’re excited because in November, we’re hoping to do another digital cabaret that we’re hoping to premiere on Friday the 13th. Was sort of a “glam and gore” kind of theme. And then, hopeful to also participate in Winter Mini-Fest. I’m sure that we will be super crazy busy around the holidays, as we always are. So, one of the things that I think sets us apart: instead of just waiting for this to be done, which we have zero control over, we’ve decided to innovate and offer programming because that we do have control over. We can be the harbors of our own destiny if we decide that we will innovate and find other ways around this impediment rather than waiting for it to be done, which we cannot control.

Nicole:

I found the link; we were all getting frozen there for a moment. If you’re interested, I’m going to put a little link in the chat if you’d like to see our concert. Follow us for all those exact dates, and we’ll put ticket links and things like that. And Theresa has been so incredible about continuing, like she had said, to pivot and continue to take this online. It’s, again, talking from the performer point of view. I know that a lot of her students have been so thankful for the opportunity just to continue to sing for an audience online. She was having very, very big success with our Friday Night Lives. 

As a lot of us are stuck at home, and I don’t know how many of you have taken in performances online, I know a lot of us who would have thought that we’d spend so much time on a laptop and not our TVs during a pandemic. But it seems that you can get so many different types of entertainment and music. I’ve seen people have the opportunity now to perform with people from other cities, and sometimes, Theresa will have friends from like Seattle and New York and we’re all on it at the same time to be able to sing and still collaborate. ‘Cause we just, we know how much music can really be of benefit. I always love, Theresa, how you always talk about how much of an impact it has on your students and how music has always been that safe place for them.

Theresa:

Well, last week, you guys got to enjoy one of my longtime voice students. Sarah’s performances — Sarah Izola, who you saw in the video last week sing “Iris” — she is 16 years old. She’s been studying with me since she was in fourth grade, and she is one of my professional performers. She’s currently doing Hello Dolly at the Garden Theater, which is running through the end of the month. So, for a lot of our students, they may go on and do that professionally and pursue that, and they’re very serious about it. 

However, a large portion may not, and one of the things that I try and help our community to understand is, regardless of what your professional ambitions might be, the life skills and the comfort that music education can give to a student — for them to feel a part of something greater than themselves, for them to develop those empathic skills, to relate to a character or other human beings to feel seen in a part of something — those are skills that change the outcomes, the trajectory of their life, and really help them grow to become the kind of leaders that we need in our community. The kind of leaders that are going to bring us to a better society, that’ll help us solve some problems that we are working with today. So, I’m really passionate about the role that arts education can have on our young people to help us really improve our future. 

“How do you get over the fear of singing in front of people?” So, I’m just going to share a little bit and I’m going to pass it to Nishaa. I think, sometimes, people think that professional performers and singers are not afraid of singing in front of people; that somehow, we have magically glossed over that national aversion. We have not; we are all very afraid. Every audition I do, every performance I do, I have nerves. But I actually think it’s one of the skills that we help to cultivate in young people through education, that you can be afraid to do something and do it anyways. That we can do hard things. So I love to see when we do our institutes, our week-long programs. 

The first day of camp: sometimes, students will be really reticent to audition for us and they will try and refuse to do the app, but we kind of push them into it. By Friday, when they have to perform in front of an audience, not a single one of them refuses to do it. All of them have built up that confidence in themselves, with their group, to be able to put themselves out there like that. The reality is that’s another life skill that you will need for whatever you do: to be able to speak your truth, to stand up in front of a group, to have hard conversations, beyond the fact that you just do it. It’s hard. It’s really hard, and you just do it anyways. That’s for me, anyways. How about you, Nishaa?

Nicole:

I was just going to interject because Theresa is a voice teacher and I am not a classically trained singer. I recently started taking voice lessons from Theresa. So, I had taken a few lessons from Theresa and sometimes, I think it’s the learning on how to use your voice. And if you feel like you know what you’re doing, that’s where a little bit more of the confidence comes from, and that’s just from somebody who thinks they can’t sing. Yeah, so that was just me. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the lesson and having someone tell you how to use your voice. 

Nishaa:

To elaborate on what Theresa said with fear. The thing is, especially with performing, one of the things that I encourage my own students to do is to redirect their energy. A lot of times, you’re feeling fear or you’re feeling nerves, and it’s not because you’re not prepared to do something. You’re going to do it, right, and you want to be perfect. You want to put on the best performance that you can. A lot of times, if you redirect your energy from like, “Oh, I’m scared I can’t do this,” to, “I’m excited I get the opportunity to do this,” you will be okay. 

I mean, it doesn’t look like it when you watch my video of “Rock-a-bye” that I was nervous, but these two can attest that we restarted that clip about five or six times because A) I was nervous being pregnant and B) I can’t remember anything. But when you have people around you who are really encouraging, like Theresa, like Nicole, and you have teachers that are building your confidence that you are able to do something, then the performing, it happens, and you’re okay. The more you do it and the more you get the positive feedback, the more you learn that even if you do make a mistake, it’s all about what you’re presenting. Are you using your entire heart and soul to tell that story that you’re trying to tell? It’s more about the perfection of the voice. It’s about how you’re touching people and how you can reach them with the stories that you’re telling. 

Nicole:

Yeah, and I think that that’s something. If any of you, just like myself like I had mentioned, aren’t a professional singer, it can seem like, “How in the world can I ever do that?” I can tell you just from a few lessons from Theresa, I didn’t even know quite how to hold my breath or I didn’t even know a certain thing. And that little bit of like, “Oh, that’s how I’m supposed to do it.” Now, it gives me even just a little bit more confidence to feel like I can sing amongst friends — not, you know, when you’re surrounded by opera singers. I can attest to being the one person in the group that can’t sing. But now that I feel like at least I know that one little, like, “Oh, if I hold my breath this way. Oh, it’s supposed to sound like that.” Those little things. Sometimes, it’s just that we don’t know. I’ve always known that music makes me feel a certain way and how I want it to look, and that’s why I love so much our partnership amongst the three of us. ‘Cause I feel like all together, we feel this, or we see this, or we hear this, or we know it costs this, and then all together, we can create something magical.

We have to have a proper goodbye and thank everybody for being here. I didn’t know if everybody had a chance to say how we could. You can hear more about us at OperadelSol.org, and you can also link to Central Florida Vocal Arts and hear more about us there. I do believe that the link and how you can join us again for the next three Wednesdays is here in our PowerPoint as well, and I hope will be emailed to you. Thank you so much, everyone, for joining us. Thank you so much, Theresa. Thank you so much, Nishaa. For, you know, just the conversation today. I know that we’ve worked on this project for a long time, and I was excited to have such a bigger conversation with other people. So, I want to thank you so much. Thank you, everyone. Bye bye.

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