National Parks Service and Westminster’s CoOPERAtive program partner to showcase historical opera recordings


For the past 100 years, the National Parks Service (NPS) has been entrusted to safeguard the special places in our nation’s history and to share their stories.  One such place is the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, N.J., where Edison made many groundbreaking inventions that forever changed the nation. For musicians, Edison’s most important invention is likely the phonograph, as it ushered in the recording industry and helped bring recorded music to ordinary households.

The magnitude of that invention is perhaps difficult for today’s younger generations to grasp, many of whom have never used a physical medium to listen to sound recordings, such as a cassette tape, a record, or even a CD. Instead they rely on the ubiquitousness of the cloud to enjoy music and most can hardly imagine life without recorded sound. To educate them about the origins of recorded sound and to celebrate Edison’s inventions, Westminster Choir College’s CoOPERAtive Program and NPS have partnered to create a special program for middle and high school students, many from underserved school districts. Students who participate in the program will tour Edison’s Music Room, listen to archival opera recordings made by Edison in the 1920s and 1930s, hear the same works performed live by CoOPERAtive Fellows, and conclude the visit with a recording of the Fellows on archival wax cylinder recorders. This project will also celebrate the National Parks Service’s 2016 centennial.

CoOPERAtive Fellows are aspiring operatic singers who hail from all over the world. They are young singers who have completed their formal training, usually a Master of Music in Vocal Performance. They enroll in the CoOPERAtive Program, a three-week summer program hosted by Westminster Choir College of Rider University, to prepare for the next steps in their careers by working with the faculty from the world’s best conservatories of music and operatic coaches and conductors from legendary opera companies. CoOPERAtive Fellows have been hired by the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and many others.

This project was recently awarded a $10,000 Art Works grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a highly competitive and prestigious award that supports the arts at the highest level. “I am thrilled that the National Endowment for the Arts chose to support Westminster’s mission of service through music through this program. It is a true testament to the quality of CoOPERAtive and the transformative experience that it helps provide not only to young artists, but also to their audiences. It will help to inspire a new generation of opera lovers. We congratulate Professors Laura Brooks Rice and Christopher Arneson, who developed the CoOPERAtive Program, on this achievement,” said Dean Matthew Shaftel of Rider’s Westminster College of the Arts.

Rider is the only university in the nation to receive the grant in the Art Work’s Opera category. In collaboration with the Long Distance Learning program of the NPS, the event will be live-streamed to students around the country and at U.S. military base schools throughout the world, with an estimated audience of an additional 5,000 students.