Opera on the James & The Listening Present #LifeTheseDays

By Chris Ruel

The Lynchburg, Virginia-based Opera on the James has partnered with The Listening Inc., an arts advocacy and mentoring nonprofit serving underrepresented and disadvantaged youth, to create a song cycle entitled #LifeTheseDays.

Using poems written by young people about life in a world turned upside down by pandemic and social unrest, the project encourages youth to express their feelings and experiences through the written word as a way to make sense of the present circumstances.

A select group of nationally and internationally acclaimed composers — one example being Kamala Sankaram — will set the poems to original compositions. The songs will be performed by opera singers from across the U.S., accompanied by piano or other solo instruments and recorded on video. Each video will feature the poet reciting their work along with conversations between the poets and the composers. The organizations are at work finishing up the first video.

In a conversation with OperaWire, Opera on the James’ General Director Marco Nisticò explained how he made a chance meeting with The Listening Inc. at a pre-pandemic local arts conference lead to the project.

“When the pandemic hit, we thought about what we as a company could do, and this idea came to mind to ask the kids to write poetry around their experience, providing them with an outlet for their feelings.”

The Listening Inc. is spearheading the work with the children while Opera on the James coordinates the musical aspect #LifeTheseDays.

Nisticó went on further to say that, when safe, “We would like to have a concert here at our venue, the Academy Center for the Arts, here in Lynchburg, inviting everyone — the poets and the musicians — and have a live celebration performance. Part of what I’m asking of the composers to do is write music that can be performed live; #LifeTheseDays was not conceived to be only digital.”

Ideally, Nisticó would like to expand the project to include other constituencies both on the local and national levels, The General Director is already in contact with other arts advocacy nonprofits discussing the expansion of the program, including working with reentry programs for formerly incarcerated people.

“This is part of our mission as an arts organization. It’s vocal music, so we’re fulfilling our mission in a slightly different way.”

To learn more about the initiative, visit the #LifeTheseDays website.