The "Bremenskie Muzykanty" Project: A Comprehensive Approach to Using Performing Arts in the Language Class

Raissa Krivitsky, Vestal High School

Student production in language class is an invaluable tool of learning the target language and culture. My paper demonstrates the approach and the methodology, as well as describes materials that allowed me to take student production from its easily assumed position of supplemental and often extracurricular activity to the center of the "full-time" Russian class, as the core of a specially designed curriculum.

The original source, an animated pop opera Bremenskie Muzykanty (1969) and its sequel, Po Sledam Bremenskix Muzikantov (1971) proved to be perfect material for both academic learning and artistic performance. They feature lively, engaging music by Gennadij Gladkov, brilliant and funny lyrics by Jurij Entin and remarkable characters, some of which portray well known actors and singers. Filled with idioms, puns and parody, the opera bears multiple connotations of the realities of Russian life, and, in particular, of Russian popular culture and entertainment. With that in mind, the Bremenskie Muzykanty curriculum provides students with the relevant background. The Russian popular comedy, Gypsy culture, Soviet rock music, prison (blatnoj) folklore, the images and language of Soviet bureaucracy, and the Russian perception of Western culture all come together through lectures, video materials, and student research and presentation.

In the process leading to the performance that is the final project, the class covers the piece's many dimensions. Along with exploring the cultural aspects of the opera, the program includes reading and listening activities, various tasks that involve using vocabulary and idioms, and materials for working on grammar and sentence structure. It also provides topics for student compositions. Most of the assignments are based on or related to the literary text of the opera, and therefore the memorization of the lyrics for the upcoming production occurs naturally as the classes proceed.

While allowing the teacher significant flexibility in planning class activities, Bremenskie Muzykanty curriculum calls for a certain lesson format, based on or organized around every individual episode. Every lesson, whether it is focused on culture, listening, translation, grammar or idioms, includes intense pronunciation training and also the rehearsal of previously learned songs. This makes the production preparation an integral part of the learning process.

My presentation will include the demonstration of some episodes from the videotaped student production. Sample worksheets used in the course will be handed out.