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Lambert senior teams up with Atlanta Opera
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Forsyth County News

Silent Night Podcast - final

SOUTH FORSYTH -- A Lambert High School senior has found his forte, recently collaborating with the Atlanta Opera to create the Silent Night project.

Joseph Sweeney, 17, has been working on the project since the end of last school year, which combines the true story of the spontaneous 1914 Christmas truce between French, British and German soldiers during World War I with the opera’s musical production.

A multimedia event was held in Lambert’s auditorium Thursday and included performances by history, language, music, theatre and art students.

With the help of his AP European history teacher, Rhetta Roy, Lambert’s performing arts teacher, Ryan Wason, and the opera’s education director, Wade Thomas, Sweeny created lesson plans and study guides for different disciplines.

The guides, which contain an overview of the opera as well as different cross-curricular activities for schools, will allow students to understand the historic event from varying perspectives.

The Atlanta Opera will be providing the study guide to all Metro Atlanta Area Schools prior to their production of Silent Night.

Silent Night the Opera won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2012.

Sweeney first came up with the idea after his AP European history class took a field trip to the High Museum of Art last year.

“I thought my teacher would love an opportunity to do another field trip,” Sweeney said. “I was talking to my mom and she said, ‘well, the orchestra would like this, too,’ and I was like, ‘you know what else? The chorus would, too’ and it kind of snowballed into all these connections that could be made to different classes.”

“He thought, ‘let’s just go on another field trip,” Roy said. “And then it turned into this huge, massive thing.”

“[Then] I thought, ‘you know, I bet you not just Lambert would be interested in this kind of thing, but the Atlanta Opera would be interested in collaborating with us,’” Sweeney said.

After contacting Thomas, Sweeney presented his idea to the opera’s marketing team, which jumped on board.

“My plan was to [make] a study guide for the opera to use and send out that explains the significance of this event and the opera and how it pertains to history,” he said.

For months, Sweeney researched details of the Christmas Truce, compiling photographs, documents, sheet music and soldiers’ letters to tell the story.

“It’s really a big moment in peace and goodwill,” Sweeney said. “This is the only time a truce has been called for only a few days, if only to celebrate good will.”

After writing the study guides, Sweeney coordinated the event at Lambert, working with teachers and the school’s administration to execute the project.

“I basically delegated [to them], connecting all of the different departments, working out how the performance was going to go down,” he said. “The study guide is cross-curricular, about 30 pages worth of research and lesson plans for teachers to use.

“On top of that, it’s going to be used as a template for how to do collaborations with high schools in the future.”

What sets Sweeney’s project apart, though, is that he didn’t simply focus on one subject.

“It’s not just, ‘oh, we invited the chorus to come watch the opera singers,’” he said. “No, we invited anyone who’s interested, because there’s a different angle for each one of these [school] subjects. They can connect to this opera, and we want to promote making those kind of outside connections.”

Thomas said the opera, too, was just as excited about the project.

“I thought it would be a wonderful way to dig deeper and really collaborate with a school, especially for this wonderful opera that we’re doing,” he said. “To work with the school and involve different aspects – not just music, but a lot of the drama, the history, the art – it was kind of a win-win situation.”

“I told Joe if we do an event, the [opera] could provide some singers,” Thomas said.

And they did, with one singer performing at Lambert at the beginning of the day’s event.

“We have a couple of schools coming to our main stage performances that I’ve sent Joe’s study guide to,” Thomas said.

Sweeney’s project has become bigger than he even expected, and his next step is taking the project to DECA in January, which is a marketing and business club throughout high schools and colleges.

“We’ve recommended he put all this together to take it to the DECA shows,” said Roy. “The DECA program coordinator looked it over and went, ‘this is unbelievable, what he’s accomplished in a relatively short time. He could go on to win awards and scholarships just by presenting this at DECA.’

“It’s opened up doors and opportunities for him that he didn’t even realize. He just wanted to do this, and it’s opening up massive doors for him.”

With the project complete except for the DECA presentation, Sweeney is focusing on finishing his senior year and applying to college.

And what he wants to study once he gets to college? History, he said. Roy and the project have a lot to do with that.