It’s hard to believe, but it is possible to get teenage boys into opera. At least that’s what Ariana Wyatt, assistant professor of voice at Virginia Tech, found in her search to create more engagement with the art form. How? Minecraft.
In a marriage of music and technology, a group of local high school students have been working with Virginia Tech students to create an original opera set to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Minecraft is an open world program, meaning the game allows its players creative freedom in how they want to play. The game revolves around breaking and placing 3D cubes in a sandbox, or designated space within the game’s boundaries. Players can gather cubes and place them in various configurations, creating the environment they desire. The player can use Java, the game’s programming language, to modify the code and alter the appearance of these cubes. Using the program, the high school students are building a virtual set along with avatars, characters created by the program.
The project is an interdepartmental effort between Wyatt and four other professors: Tracy Cowden, piano; Kelly Parkes, music education; Katie Dredger, English; and Ivica Ico Bukvic, music technology. Together they lead students through the process of producing an opera. Meanwhile, students from the School of Computer Science and Technology assist the high-schoolers with coding the set and characters, created using Minecraft and projected digitally on screens during the performance. Voice students from Virginia Tech’s music department act as voice actors and breathe life into the avatars as they move around the virtual set. It’s not often that an opera is produced without a singer’s physical presence on a stage, but it’s something the team is experimenting with through this virtual opera.
Wyatt’s repurposing of Minecraft is not a new topic in the tech world; it has been used as a teaching tool for math, science, and the humanities. However, as an engagement tool, the production process accomplished its main purpose: getting students excited about opera. “The goal is to engage students in the arts because of the wonderful effects it has on children and their success in life. It's a way to encourage self-expression and confidence and all of the things that come along with producing an opera,” Wyatt said. Through this collaboration, Virginia Tech is promoting the intersection of arts and technology while inviting an entirely new audience to experience opera.
OPERAcraft will be presented on December 4, at 7:30p.m., and again on December 7, at 2:00p.m., at Virginia Tech’s Cube at the Center for the Arts.