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Monday, December 17, 2018

Singing the Snowflakes

Photo by Richard Termine
By David Hsieh

In a ballet as full of magical moments as The Nutcracker, the Waltz of the Snowflakes may just be the most magical. Our heroine (Marie or Clara, depending on the version) just helped fend off the Rat King in an act of desperation. Then the wooden Nutcracker turns into a handsome cavalier to take her to a magical snow kingdom full of winter wonder. This moment of transformation with a sense of wonder is conveyed through every element of the staging. The scene shifts from domestic interior where rodents lurk to a forest covered in pristine white. The atmosphere changes from a real world to an imagined one. The dance style changes from social (and mime) to classical ballet on point. The characters change from kids to adults. And Tchaikovsky’s music suddenly adds in a vocal part—the only one in the entire score.

The continuous “ah” sung by a children’s choir to accompany the Snowflakes perfectly represents a young girl’s awe in that transformation—wordless, but not meaningless. It is a simple melody that can be sung by children but contrasts nicely to the short three beats (Snowfall! Gliding on ice!) played by the orchestra. And Mark Morris Dance Group has found a way to make it even more meaningful. In this year’s production of The Hard Nut (playing at BAM until Dec 23), for the first time, choirs from neighboring schools have been invited to sing.

“In previous productions we used students from our own education program. But we thought this would be a good opportunity for community outreach and education,” explains Sarah Marcus, director of education for Mark Morris Dance Group. She sent out invitations to several schools in the area at the beginning of the school year. Eventually fours choirs from three schools were selected. They are Brooklyn Friends School, the Women’s Choir and the Technical Difficulties A Capella from Brooklyn Technical High School, and MS 51 William Alexander. With the MMDG Hard Nut Singers, the five choirs (about 30 singers each) will rotate throughout the engagement. In addition, they will sing carols on the steps of Howard Gilman Opera House before each performance. (Check for schedule.)

Basia Revi, the choral director of Brooklyn Tech, sang at BAM in the opera Anna Nicole in 2013 (she was one of the lap dancers). So she was particularly excited for her students to come to BAM. “Singing in schools is one thing, but the real experience happens when students are exposed to music making in a professional setting,” Revi said.

Mimi Broderick, choral director of MS 51, agrees. “They will perform with a professional dance group and orchestra, which is something most of them have never done before.”

Carynthia Roberty, an eighth grader in Brooklyn Tech, also welcomes the opportunity. “We’re always doing work in the science field at school so it’s nice to branch out and do some music.”

The choirs mostly practiced on their own at lunchtime and after-school hours, which also included watching video of the ballet. Then they all gathered for one group rehearsal the night before opening, watching the entire show in the theater. They were totally bewitched by the famous snow tossing scene in The Hard Nut and felt it would energize their singing.

Carynthia said, “when they’re dancing and throwing the snow you feel the joy and happiness. It’s something so beautiful that I feel that it adds happiness to the song.”

Her schoolmate Gaelle Alcindor said, “Judging from the dance that accompanies the song I feel happiness and a sense of renewal because the dancers are spreading the snow. We also sense of awe and amazement because of our song.”

Nallely Pineda of MS 51 has enjoyed singing as a way to express herself all her life. She said that even though the song is without words, “it still gives you the feeling that something is going on, and you have to sing it like that. There is a part in the arrangement where the music speeds up, indicating there’s a big change. Then it returns to slow and peaceful. That is really magical.”

Almost every student has some knowledge of The Nutcracker. But Madelin Bareh of MS 51 grew up with it. “My parents are big fans of it and played the music a lot. It’s pretty amazing thinking that growing up I’ve heard this song hundreds of times and now I’m going to perform in it. It’s insane!”

Even in a slightly tongue in cheek production like Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut, this scene is danced with pure joy. And the students sing it that way. Please come and enjoy this party with them!

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.


  1. I have never seen a ballet in real life because I was sure it is very boring. However, your post showed me that it can be fairy and very interesting. Now I even think about buying a ticket.

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