This past weekend, the students in our opera courses had their culminating performances of select scenes from several operas. They worked intensely with me and my colleagues all term on this, and as we always do following the performances, we “de-briefed” to reflect on the process. This revisiting and digesting of the collective experience is something I’ve been doing in the program for at least a decade now, and it’s become an important ritual. It helps me, as an educator, to note the things that resonate with the students, as well as to become aware of things that aren’t working, or need improvement.

One thing stood out to me this year more than ever before: the way in which we have developed and nurtured our classroom community, and how vitally important it is to all of us. In this pandemic recovery time, it became apparent to me that it was going to be vital for us to re-establish connection and belonging. I therefore made extra efforts to establish and reinforce practices that were going to engender these things. Our weekly check-ins became a priority; when it was clear that one instructor needed more rehearsal time, rather than cancel the check-ins outright, we moved them to another day so that the practice could remain consistent. We co-created a “code of values” as a class, with each group member contributing to this process. This resulted in a kind of depth of cohesion amongst the group that I had not experienced before.

One of the most repeated words in our de-briefing session was “community”. Students talked about support, having “one another’s back”, a feeling of collective effort lacking rivalry or competition. At one point, one student called our class a “community of care”, and this truly struck me. It’s what drew me to opera as an art form in the first place: the sense of teamwork that brings so many people together in the pursuit of a common goal. How beautiful to witness this in action! I feel so proud of this group of people I am entrusted with guiding towards their performing goals. The community they create is formed through my leadership and example, but it is the result of their individual and collective energy and desires. They’re the ones who bring it into being.