The original opera “Hairyland” — performed this week by Candy Staley’s second-grade students at Buckeye Valley East Elementary School — may be Staley’s last.
After more than 20 original operas, this year’s was Staley’s last as a teacher at the school. She will retire after 37 years of teaching at Buckeye Valley East at the end of the current school year.
“[Retiring] has been such a difficult decision for me because I love being with the kids,” she said. Although she will no longer be teaching at the school, Staley said, “I hope I’m lucky enough to continue with [the operas] in some fashion.”
The students have created the opera on their own, with the guidance of Staley, who has dubbed herself their “secretary.” The process began when the students chose a theme to be the focus of the opera.
“Imagination” was chosen and the students allowed this ideal to guide them as they crafted the script. The story centers around the residents of Hairyland who all have wild and unique hairstyles. An evil barber destroys Hairyland, but is foiled by a superhero-like character named Mustache Man, who uses a special potion to restore Hairyland to its hairy glory.
The plot of the opera gives an idea of the creativity that the students are able to exercise as they prepare for the show. “It’s not my project, it’s really their project,” Staley explained. In addition to writing the script, students helped to compose the melodies and to prepare the set.
Staley said she loves seeing the students learn through every step of the process. “The nice thing about it is the kids start with nothing and they end with such a list of accomplishments,” she said.
With a smile that did not lessen as a few tears came to her eyes, Staley reflected on the many students who have created operas with her over the last 20 years. “They’re just … they’re amazing,” she said.“It’s just such a good thing for kids. I mean, you have to go into every year believing they can do the impossible. Every year I am surprised, pleasantly so.”
She also reflected on the role that the community has played in encouraging the operas over the years. “It’s very much community-based,” she said. “I am so grateful for all the people who have played a role in our operas over the years and been so supportive.”
This year, a portion of the money raised by the opera will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of a member of the company who was diagnosed with diabetes this year.
As Staley spoke about the operas, her passion was evident and it was difficult to imagine her ever giving them up. As she put it: “It’s just kind of part of who I am now, I guess.”
Megan Neary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.