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Working partnership with a musical theme!

Author: Meryl James, SCILT/CISS

Thousands of primary school pupils from P5, P6 or P7 have been rehearsing and performing an opera about the exciting voyages of 14th century Chinese Admiral Zheng He. The opera, called ‘The dragon of the Western Sea’, has been composed by Alan Penman with lyrics by Ross Stenhouse. Pupils learn the words and songs in their own classrooms and then work with a Scottish Opera team to prepare for a performance in front of classmates, friends and family.

‘The dragon of the Western Sea’ tells the story of Admiral Zheng He and his vast fleet of ships with 28,000 crew which set sail from China to Indonesia, India, Arabia and the grasslands of Africa in search of trade, treaties and treasure. The Emperor of the time was keen to create a maritime Silk Road between China, India and Africa.

The Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools (CISS) provided free workshops to schools who took part in the partnership, exploring the words of the songs (such as bei (North), nan (South), dong (East) and Xi (West)) and how the words relate to present-day place names such as Beijing, Nanjing, Dongjing and Xi’an. The opera provided a rich context for learning about the language and culture of China, as well as the culture, geography and history of other countries Zheng He explored.

At the end of last year, Hanban Council in Beijing, the headquarters of Confucius Institutes worldwide, named Scottish Opera a Specialist Confucius Classroom Hub. Scottish Opera is the first opera company in the world to be selected for this accolade, and is one of four new hubs in Scotland that are not based in a school setting.

CISS received feedback on the workshops they provided. This feedback included:

  • the workshop was an excellent addition to the programme
  • it consolidated the understanding of Zheng He
  • the enthusiasm and knowledge of the presenter really brought the subject matter to life and inspired the children to learn more
  • an excellent experience for the pupils and evaluated very highly by both pupils and staff alike

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