Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra, celebrating its twenty-fourth birthday this year, was born from a unique partnership between the Opéra National de Paris and the Academies of Paris, Versailles and Créteil, all agreeing on the common objective to enable young pupils from “Réseaux d’Education Prioritaires” - [French zones of deprived areas, generally in large cities’ suburbs where education is a priority] - to find the path to academic success through opera.

[Image: 5175]

Why have you primarily focused on these school networks?

First and foremost the programme was built around an educational ambition. The ultimate goal was not only to get pupils interested in opera but to help them find a path to academic success. It is through artistic creation, the creations of the Opera and by putting artistic and cultural education at the centre of the learning process, that we get pupils back onto the right educational path.

Thus, we organize meetings for the classes with personnel from the opera house, not only allowing them to discover professions about which they previously had limited knowledge, but also to raise awareness of the importance of their school learning as a driver of success in whatever career path they take. For instance, a carpenter at the Opera will talk about the importance of mathematics, physics, and IT in his profession. Moreover, the founders of the project were driven by a common ambition because of their shared experience of these Réseaux d’Education Prioritaires. The children’s needs as well as the urgency of action were therefore already carefully identified and support the educational projects of teams of committed and motivated teachers.

 What barriers do these pupils face to getting into opera? How do Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra overcome them?

The first step of this program consists of breaking down a series of preconceptions. It starts with backstage tours of Bastille and Garnier, which always succeed in destroying the children’s stereotype of the "fat lady singing", and reveals the rigour, focus, and passion behind the opera-making process. Exploring what happens backstage is also a great way to make them understand why there is such magic when the curtain rises.

This immersion is always preceded by a scholarly preparation by our partner institutions around the works of the Paris Opera season. Often, we notice an emotional shock among many students when they first discover the Opera. It is a sign that the preparation has been successful and that the path is clear to gain gaining their attention and helping them learn. At this stage, barriers and preconceptions about opera are already far behind them.

[Image: 5174]

 Having benefited from this programme, do pupils continue their discovery [of classical music and opera] on their own?

It is still difficult to accurately measure our long-term impact and answer questions like "who is still playing an instrument today?", "Who attends performances?", "How often?"

We have offered this programme to between 15,000 and 17,000 pupils and the last survey took place nine years ago on the fifteenth birthday of the programme. It showed that thirty of the children were still into opera or classical music. Over the past three years there has been an increasing number of our former pupils getting into music conservatoires to study dance, singing and instrument. They are also more and more applicants interested in completing an internship at the opera. We are working hard at finding effective measurement tools, especially with social media.

 Do parents easily accept that their children, who already have some difficulties at school, follow a programme where they spend less time at school and more elsewhere?

Parents are an issue that we consider carefully. We want as much as possible to get them involved in these activities. Their fear of the Opera as a playground may be understandable, which is why we organize visits and meetings especially for the students’ families, creating a fertile ground for discussions around the project. This has also helped schools to restore the link with parents, which is often hard to get in these Réseaux d’Education Prioritaires.

Along with these visits and meetings, our sponsors have enabled us to create art workshops for students. The “Classe des Petits Violons” has enabled Second Graders from 18th arrondissement in Paris to learn the violin on a scholarship basis, thanks to daily lessons. We managed to get a waiver from the Académie for this programme to be spread over four academic years, which allowed us to strengthen their basic knowledge of the instrument. We are pleased to notice that four former pupils have got into regional conservatoires, and that three have successfully competed for the prestigious Vatelot Rampal prize.

To link this to the issue of parents' fears, one family was reluctant to let their son participate in this contest. After discussions with teachers and within their private religious context, they finally decided to support him in this adventure. A few months later, their son received the first prize and finished his school year with significant academic progress. These pupils have now joined high schools and have continued learning the violin. We have subsequently launched a second class where we added violas and cellos to teaching of the violin.

[Image: 5173]

Is the young audience an interesting target for developing new technologies in the opera (iPad, applications, live broadcasts, ...)?

Digital is indeed at the heart of our current thinking. We have been considering several ways to integrate digital into Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra and beyond. This not only meets governmental guidelines pushing for digital at school (“le numérique à l’école"), but also supports our belief that good tools will always create stronger links between these two worlds that start out so far removed from each other. The first achievement was the replacement of our print newspaper with a digital newspaper “Dix Mois".

 Do you know other programmes of this kind in the world? If yes, how do you share best practices with each other?

We don’t know any other two-year programmes taking place in other opera houses. In fact, this is what makes our programme particularly strong. Exams helped us to highlight behavioral changes of pupils and acquisitions of social codes in the first year, with a positive impact accentuated during the second year. Of course this doesn’t mean that other programmes aren’t successful. Educational services are sometimes innovative and pro-active.

At the Opéra de Paris, the educational service includes the Service Jeune Public, Opéra Université and Dix Mois d'Ecole et d'Opéra. Thanks to our 2013-2014 season, we are currently developing a national programme, leading a project in co-production with Opéra de Reims, the Opéra National de Lorraine, and the Academies of Reims and Nancy. Our “14+18” programme will run in these three theatres and will involve discussions on the Great War and its artistic movements. This project is certified by the Mission Centenaire de la Grande Guerre. Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra will then be able to inspire projects from other opera houses. Afterwards, the show will then be taken to Montpellier.

Similarly, next week we will be in Helsinki as part of Reseo conferences to meet our European counterparts. Finally, following the wonderful European project that we conducted in 2008, we plan to have a second edition of that in the near future.

 We can easily see ​​what Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra will be in ten months, but what about in ten years?

We hope that the programme will always receive the full support of the directors of the opera, of the three academies and of our sponsors whose loyalty and generosity have never failed us.

Finally, we hope that an even greater number of students will (re)find the path to success through art and culture!

Christine Eschenbrenner, Alexis Ouspensky and Dominique Laudet - Dix Mois d’Ecole et d’Opéra

Interview by Martin Arnaud