Adventism and the Arts: Blue Mountain Academy Opera
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, posted July 29, 2015
About half the students, faculty, and staff at Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, as well as some community volunteers, were involved in the academy’s recent production of an operatic drama called “The Exodus Story.” Director of music Lawrence Galera told AToday that the full number was probably over 100, counting cast, staff, orchestra, gymnasts, soloists, stage, lighting, and sound crews, as well as those who helped to promote the event. And you will get a chance to purchase a DVD (and help the school) by about September; they are working on producing it, and AT will inform you when it is ready.
“This is our second production—the first was Noah and the flood. I saw a lot of separation between the different departments in school, so I wanted us to all collaborate.” Officially, Galera collaborated with the English department, but he also called on gymnasts, musicians, and since the school doesn’t have an art department, they called on any artistic members of the school family for props, posters, etc.
Galera said he has “been in music all my life, growing up in the church.” He always enjoyed music of all kinds, but when he was in seventh grade, his grandmother took him to a theater production, and he was “captivated” by the combination of music with theater. In college he became “very heavy into opera.” He graduated from Andrews University with a Masters degree in instrumental conducting and began a doctoral program in choral conducting at Indiana University in Bloomington. IU, he said is a big opera school, and he gained experience in nearly all parts of production, from on stage to costuming to the orchestra pit.
“I realized I could use something like this to impact people for the Lord’s work, turning Biblical stories into theatrical productions.”
At BMA, Galera directs a vibrant music program which goes on tour every other year, and on the alternate years, puts on their own full opera. For those productions, “I write all lyrics and some of the pieces. Then I take some prominent music from the classical world and integrate that in, so kids get some exposure to all kinds of classical composers and their music, from Beethoven to Puccini. It’s old music, but they really enjoy it.”
Galera says he has “heard a few views of people being against theater and drama, but no one has criticized it to me personally.” He feels that perhaps it is because he uses more of a traditional conservatory approach. “We get a lot of compliments. People love it.”
The July 2015 Columbia Union Visitor quoted two student actors. Senior Nolan Seidel said he joined choir in his freshman year, at first just for the credit, but that it became a ministry to him. Senior Courtney Doyle, who played Pharaoh’s daughter in the production, said she believed this might touch people whom a “normal church service” would not reach. They also quoted the Pennsylvania Conference Vice President of Education, Jeff Bovee, as saying he was “so proud of the students, faculty, staff, and volunteers who have worked to put together this amazing theatrical production.
Galera himself said he was overwhelmed—“far above and beyond my highest expectations”—with the work of the dedicated and talented community.
What’s next? “Whatever the Lord inspires,” Galera said. He doesn’t know what it will be; he doen’t plan it very far ahead. “Believe it or not, I actually started writing most of the music in December. By January I had four to five numbers, and I kept writing right up to the [May] show. In fact, one week before the performance, we had to scrap a whole piece and reinsert different orchestration because it wasn’t long enough for the narrator in that scene. The Lord works amazingly, finding the right people for the ministry, putting things into place that make it work…it’s awesome!! After the show I just wanted to do the whole show all over again.”
The school is working on producing a DVD of the entire opera. They hope it will be available by the beginning of the school year. Call the Blue Mountain Academy office (484-662-7000) to ask about it, or watch the Facebook page. (At the moment, you can see photos as well as video clips of preparation for the performance.) And AToday will inform you, as well.