What if the Three Little Pigs were really the bad guys? What if the Fairy Godmother never showed up? Who would win in a dance battle, Cinderella or Snow White?

There’s nothing quite like a fairytale to capture the imagination of a child. So, an invitation to re-write one seemed the most natural place for Sherise Longhurst’s students to start when tasked with composing their own opera.

“The kids voted on the ideas they wanted to include in the opera, and then we wrote a plot outline. Then they split up into small groups, and every group wrote one of the scenes,” says Longhurst, the Beverly Taylor Sorenson choir instructor at Ridgecrest Elementary. “I put all the scenes together into one libretto, but I didn’t really edit their words at all. It’s all their voices.”

The finished product, a twisted Cinderella tale featuring a dance battle with Snow White, debuted to great acclaim — giggles and thunderous applause — at a school assembly and was featured on ABC4Utah's Midday show. The goal of the project, undertaken as part of Utah Opera’s outreach program “Music! Words! Opera!” which pairs students with local composers, is to expose students to the creative process and help them to see that opera is accessible and fun.

Students learn to work as a team on a big project with many moving parts, from crafting the story and pairing it with the right music and words to designing costumes and staging the production, says Paula Fowler, Utah Opera’s Director of Education and Community Outreach. “They’re learning life skills. I love it when I’m watching an opera and the students are waiting for each other; they’re waiting for their turn to do something. That’s a hard thing for kids to do.”

After the libretto was finished, Utah composer David Naylor visited the school a to collect melodies from the kids. He recorded all of their ideas and then wove them into a 16-minute score. “He turned the dance battle into a disco, which cracks me up every time I hear it,” Longhurst says. “It’s been so fun to watch the students create something on their own. I’m still amazed that this work we performed didn’t even exist at the start of the year.”


Five of CSD’s talented high school instrumentalists have been selected to perform with the Utah Symphony at an All-Star Evening Concert on Tuesday, May 23.

The rare honor is granted to 57 students statewide. At the 7 p.m. event at Abravanel Hall, students will perform Dvorak’s Violin Concerto side-by-side with their professional counterparts. The performance will last two hours and admission starts at $12.

The following students were chosen based on their performance at the Utah Symphony Youth Orchestra Festival on March 13, 2017:

Sean Dulger, Horn, Corner Canyon
Laura Lee, Violin, Corner Canyon
Micah Clawson, Violin, Hillcrest
Dallin Davis, Cello, Hillcrest
Parker Kreiger, Clarinet, Hillcrest

When Mount Jordan middle was demolished in 2013, then-principal Dr. Molly Hart saved a stack of bricks in her office to pay homage to the 59-year-old school. After the school was rebuilt in 2015 she discovered it had an even greater treasure with a history as old as the original building: a Steinway and Sons 1954 Model B classic grand piano.

The piano was cracked, out of tune and badly in need of extensive repairs. After years of being exposed to the open air and shared community and school use, the Steinway looked as bad as it sounded and seemed as though the cost to fix the instrument would be significantly more than it was worth. All of the hammers needed to be replaced, as well as the dampers and strings, and the soundboard needed to be fixed. There was a fleeting suggestion that perhaps the piano should just be sold to save the cost of restoring it to its former glory — but Hart had different ideas.
She took a look around the school’s newly completed, million-dollar auditorium built in partnership for the community with Sandy city, and she knew she couldn’t let it go. “I could just imagine performances taking place in that gorgeous auditorium,” Hart says. “That would be a really memorable experience and a life-changing experience for a middle school student to have a memory of playing a 1954 vintage Steinway B. You don’t have to be a piano player to know that.”

Hart worked with Canyons’ Arts Consortium Chair Sharee Jorgensen and the District's Purchasing Department to orchestrate the repair with an expert who restores pianos across the state. To pay for the project, Dr. Hart courted donations, used money from her furniture budget and received funds from Jorgensen's budget. The project cost a little more than $20,000, but the investment increased the value of the piano substantially.

“He (the restoration expert) took the piano, and between him and the person who refinished the outside, they turned it into a brand-new looking, beautiful piano that we could have never replaced for the money we spent on the restoration,” Jorgensen said.

Canyons District owns seven Steinway and Sons grand pianos, one Steinway and Sons upright piano, and 31 grand pianos by othcarryingpiano.jpger makers. The piano at Mount Jordan is the first to be completely restored, increasing its value substantially, Jorgensen says. A new Steinway and Sons Model B piano, which the company refers to as “the perfect piano” on its website, costs about $100,000. As the instruments age, their value typically increases.

“If you take care of it, it’s like an old violin,” Jorgensen says. “If you take care of it, it will eventually become priceless and last you a long time.”

To that end, the school purchased a special cover and locking case for the piano. It is used for special performances by students and members of the community, as Hart, who is now principal at Albion Middle School, had hoped.

“Mount Jordan serves a population of students that may or may not have an opportunity to play on a Steinway,” Hart said. “For the students that perform, that could be something that a pianist would have a memory of forever. I wanted kids to have that opportunity — and I wanted Canyons to have that opportunity.”

Now this is music to our ears.

Eight Canyons District students have been selected to play side-by-side with members of the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall on Tuesday, May 17.

The 7 p.m. concert will feature some of the state’s best high school musicians. Cost to attend the event ranges from $6 to $18. The students are:

  • Alta:  Jacob Kilby, acoustic bass; Noah Valentine, violin
  • Hillcrest:  Mitchell Spencer, piano; Michael Zackrison, tuba; Adam Ford, violin
  • Corner Canyon:  Hannah McKay, viola; Kadyn Allen, trumpet
  • Jordan:  Nathan Jensen, French horn

It’s rehearsal and the first time that Seattle composer Giselle Wyers has heard her musical piece “Surge Illuminare” performed.

“It’s beautiful!” she tells visibly relieved members of Corner Canyon High School’s choir. “I really like what you’ve brought to it.”

The choir has been working for months to interpret and perfect this song in anticipation of its world premiere at the high school on Monday, March 21. They’re a little stiff; it’s not every day that they get to work with a composer and conductor the caliber of Wyers, an associate endowed professor of choral music at the University of Washington (UW).

But Wyers assures them that they’ve “got this” before coaxing a little more emotion from the group. “This next run, look for something in yourself. Think of something that troubles you and then think about how you overcome it.”conducting.jpg

Performing on stage is a balancing act. Wyers wants the choir to be confident and poised; to sing with emotion without being overcome by it. A similar tension, or dissonance, plays out in the music she was commissioned to write for Corner Canyon, says the school’s choir director Melissa Thorne. “It’s a Latin text that talks about bringing forth light to overcome darkness.”

Thorne has long wanted to give her students the opportunity of performing music specifically written for them. Contracting with a professional composer can be expensive. But Dr. Wyers, a good friend of Thorne’s, discounted her services. Thorne then applied for and won a $1,500 Canyons Education Foundation Innovation Grant — one of 25 grants awarded this year to teachers with ideas for enriching classroom instruction.

Most Innovation Grants pay for high-tech classroom materials or teaching tools, but the program is really about expanding students’ horizons. Thorne says working with someone like Wyers, who conducts UW’s choir and whose choral works are published and performed internationally, is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for many of her students.

A leading national figure in the application of the Laban movement theory for conductors, Wyers runs Thorne’s choir through a few drills at rehearsal, exposing them to new ways of thinking about their craft. More than just a resume booster, the experience reinforces the value of choral music and “opens students’ minds to what’s possible,” Thorne says.

giselleportrait.jpgAfter rehearsal, students ask Wyers about her creative process. She says often the music just comes to her; it’s while transcribing it that she refines the piece and thinks more critically about how it fits within certain traditions. “People think choir music is Ivory Tower. But when I was your age, I was writing music on the piano and getting inspiration from popular music of the day,” she confides.

What motivated her to write “Surge Illuminare?” It was an abstract idea and nothing in particular. “I was thinking about the forces of life, the forces that draw into dark feelings and dark ways of being, and the forces that draw into hope, courage and taking a chance of doing something outside of the zone because you know it will make you a better person,” she says. “Life can throw up unexpected obstacles and the darkness can seem overwhelming. But we have to always look for the light.”

Wyers concludes rehearsal by sharing lessons learned from the darkest point in her life, when, at the age of 26, she unexpectedly lost her mother to a brain tumor. “I was so upset, but I still had to go to class every day and teach. I would cry all the way to class in the car…teach my one-hour class and go back to my office [and] cry some more,” she says. “But the teaching was what actually got me through it because I wasn’t thinking about myself. Some of the greatest ways to find lightness in life is by giving to others.”

“Surge Illuminare” will debut at Corner Canyon High School Monday, March 21 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. The choir will perform the piece at a regional festival on April 27 and again at the high school during the Canyons Education Foundation Gala April 28 at 6:30 p.m.

Gala2016-WebBanner.jpgBe a Builder of Dreams
Please join the Canyons School District Education Foundation for a Fundraising Gala, a celebration of student achievement and innovation in education.

April 28, 2016
6:30 p.m.
Event Location:
Corner Canyon High School

Call the Foundation at 801-826-5171 for tickets or to donate an item to the live and silent auctions.

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