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Family Opera, Inc.

 23 Norris Street
 Cambridge, MA 02140
[P] (617) 821-5043
[F] (617) 354-6123
www.FamilyOpera.org
[email protected]
Claudette Beit-Aharon
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INCORPORATED: 2001
 Printable Profile (Summary / Full)
EIN 31-1792599

LAST UPDATED: 11/12/2017
Organization DBA North Cambridge Family Opera
North Cambridge Family Opera Company
NCFO
Former Names --
Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years No

Summary

Mission StatementMORE »

The North Cambridge Family Opera is dedicated to telling compelling stories through accessible operas with intergenerational casts; merging poetry, science, and humor to create science lessons in song; and introducing Cambridge students to the joys of composing music and writing lyrics.

Mission Statement

The North Cambridge Family Opera is dedicated to telling compelling stories through accessible operas with intergenerational casts; merging poetry, science, and humor to create science lessons in song; and introducing Cambridge students to the joys of composing music and writing lyrics.

FinancialsMORE »

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2016 to Aug 31, 2017
Projected Income $90,450.00
Projected Expense $101,250.00

ProgramsMORE »

  • Family Opera
  • Science Cantata
  • Songwriting Workshops
  • Special Programs with Visiting Artists

Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2014 (%)

For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.


Overview

Mission Statement

The North Cambridge Family Opera is dedicated to telling compelling stories through accessible operas with intergenerational casts; merging poetry, science, and humor to create science lessons in song; and introducing Cambridge students to the joys of composing music and writing lyrics.

Background Statement

North Cambridge Family Opera (NCFO) is a non-profit, community-based organization that produces contemporary, high quality operas for audiences of all ages, sung by casts that range from six to senior citizens. NCFO was officially founded in 1999.

NCFO produces a family opera each spring, with as many as 180 adults and children participating. The operas are fully-staged productions with work primarily done by our volunteers. There are eight performances of each opera, with a total audience of about 2000.

In the spring of 2007, as part of the first Cambridge Science Festival, NCFO performed Lifetime: Songs of Life and Evolution. This science lesson in song, a science cantata, was extremely well received and was a wonderful experience for everyone involved.  NCFO assembled a chorus of 80 adults and children for three performances during the weeklong Festival. The response from audience, participants, and CSF organizers was so positive that the Festival Chorus is now an annual event. Each year, NCFO assembles and/or commissions a group of songs about a scientific field. The songs are in various styles with lyrics that are poetic and scientifically accurate.

         Since 2006, NCFO has led an outreach program to bring composers and librettists into the community. NCFO sponsors performances and lectures by these visiting artists. Since 2008, we have sponsored hundreds of songwriting workshops in Cambridge Public Schools that support the science curriculum.

Impact Statement

Top Accomplishments in 2017

Produced Springtime for Haman, Cambridge composer David Bass's entertaining opera, in which Queen Esther risks her life to save her cousin Mordechai and her people from the vengeful Grand Vizier of Persia. With two 50-minute acts of music in both popular and classical styles, it was performed by an intergenerational cast of 130, with an audience approaching 2000.
 
Sponsored 45 songwriting workshops in the Cambridge Public Schools. All songs were related to the science curriculum. Many teachers were new to our song writing workshops.
 
Produced the science cantata Singing of the Rain: Songs about Weather and Climate, with 19 new songs by 10 composers covering topics as diverse as rain (including weird weather like raining frogs!), tornadoes, the ozone hole (getting smaller!), ocean level rise, the original climate change scientists Fourier, Arrhenius and Keeling, and the distinction between weather and climate.The chorus of 55 members, aged 6 to 80, sang a medley of songs written by CPS students in our songwriting workshops.

Goals for 2018

  1. Produce our newly commissioned family opera, Weedpatch: Hardship Laughter and Song in Dust Bowl Era California.  The music is by Stanford University's Paul Phillips and the book and libretto are by Grammy winning storyteller Bill Harley. It is based on the historical Weedpatch Camp, built and run by Okies who were shunned by Californians. The Dust Bowl was a significant environmental event during a period in American history which is fading from living memory. Weedpatch is a fun musical production that makes history accessible to all.

  2. Produce a new science cantata for the Cambridge Science festival for our 12th year, with a larger chorus including Cambridge Public School choruses.

  3. Produce 45 songwriting workshops in the Cambridge Public Schools, particularly with teachers who haven’t had workshops in the past.

  4. Identify new sources of funding.

Needs Statement

  1. Reliable set-building space: We need a large space for set construction during January and February. We have managed to find unrented commercial space each year, but it is always touch-and-go.

  2. New operas: Few works are appropriate for our cast and audience, so we need new ones written for our specifications. We commissioned Weedpatch, our upcoming 2018 opera, from Stanford University professor Paul Phillips and Grammy-winning storyteller Bill Harley. We continually receive proposals for new operas, and we expect to commission another one at some point in the future. We offer $20,000 for a new 90-minute opera.

  3. Performance space: Our current location, the Peabody School in Cambridge, is well located and the auditorium was renovated in 2002. However, we would need a bigger stage and more wing space if the number of opera participants increases significantly. Newly renovated schools in Cambridge have auditoriums that meet these criteria, but rental costs would be about twice what we currently pay. Private theater spaces would be even more expensive.

CEO Statement

I founded NCFO in 1999 after composing an opera based on a well-known science fiction story as a way to give my seven-year-old son, whose autism made conventional after-school activities impractical, an opportunity to develop one of his strengths, his considerable vocal abilities. A group of 24 singers, consisting of our family and friends, performed Space Opera as part of our neighborhood's open studios weekend. I was moved by the positive effect the experience had on my son and also on relationships within and between other participating families and generations. My wife and I decided to produce a family opera in Cambridge each spring, and NCFO was born. I have now written four family operas and have adapted five other children’s operas by living composers for intergenerational casts. NCFO has transformed the lives of my family, friends, and community.

Board Chair Statement

(The CEO/Executive director and the Board Chair/President of NCFO are the same person.)

Geographic Area Served

GREATER BOSTON REGION, MA

North Cambridge Family Opera primarily serves Cambridge and surrounding communities.  Participants during the past two years have also hailed from Dorchester, Brighton, Brookline, Arlington, Somerville, Newton, Watertown, Lexington, Belmont, Waltham, Medford, Nahant, Quincy, Chestnut Hill, Roslindale, Grafton, Milton, Stow, Wakefield, Wellesley and Worcester. 
 

Organization Categories

  1. Arts,Culture & Humanities - Opera
  2. Education - Education N.E.C.
  3. Human Services - Human Services NEC

Independent research has been conducted on this organization's theory of change or on the effectiveness of this organization's program(s)

No

Programs

Family Opera

NCFO produces an annual opera which provides a chance for children (age 7 and up) and adults to develop their singing, dancing, and acting. We provide professional instruction for all participants, and everyone has the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professional vocal coach from the Longy School of Music. Though NCFO holds auditions, all applicants are accepted. We help inexperienced singers gain confidence as part of a large chorus, often with a small solo as well. For more gifted and experienced singers, there are principal solo roles and challenging small ensembles. NCFO helps the entire cast develop poise and confidence in performing in front of a large audience. Adults and teenagers also learn new skills by working on set construction, lighting, costumes, props, and makeup. Adults help with publicity and advertising. Everyone learns how complex it is to produce a show.

Budget  $60,000.00
Category  Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Opera Performances Presenting
Population Served Families K-12 (5-19 years)
Program Short-Term Success  Short-term success for the family opera involves a successful production, including a diverse cast of about 140 adults and children, both new and returning members, and a total audience of about 2000.
Program Long-Term Success  Producing an opera with performers of all ages is a wonderful experience which strengthens families and builds new relationships between families and between generations in the community. In addition, participants learn new skills beyond singing, including cooperation, group dynamics, and the technical skills needed to mount a production. NCFO seeks more widespread recognition of the unique work it is doing in this regard among local educators, arts organizations, foundations, and municipal governments. Ultimate we would like to see the formation of family opera groups in other communities that will use the operas we have accumulated in our repertoire.
Program Success Monitored By  We solicit feedback from participating families on which aspects of our production they found rewarding and which they did not. Ultimately, success is evaluated by the percentage of participants returning for the next production.
Examples of Program Success 

The family opera production in 2017 was Springtime For Haman by NCFO founder David Bass. The enthusiastic cast of about 130 (typical for NCFO productions) included both new and returning participants.The eight performances attracted appreciative audiences of more than 1500. As with all our performances, admission was free so that cost would not be a barrier to attending. Voluntary donations were accepted at the door, however.

Grants, donations, corporate sponsorships and program ads more than covered the costs for the opera, which were low this year because Springtime for Haman is one we had done previously and because the composer is David Bass, hence no licensing fee was required. Costs are anticipated to be significantly higher in our 2017-18 season, as we are producing a newly commissioned opera, Weedpatch.



Science Cantata

A Science Cantata is a science lesson in song. We perform annually at the Cambridge Science Festival. Our chorus is intergenerational, open to individuals and families with children as young as six. The chorus works with a professional conductor at weekly rehearsals, which include discussions of the science that is in the songs, giving kids (and adults) a chance to ask questions and share knowledge. For people interested in a cappella and close harmony singing, there is an advanced group that meets after the full chorus to work on more challenging songs. The performances are accompanied by a slide show of art inspired by the music, created by children in the chorus and local after-school programs. The song lyrics are superimposed on these slides.

Budget  $13,500.00
Category  Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Musical Performances
Population Served Families K-12 (5-19 years)
Program Short-Term Success  Short-term success for the Science Cantata involves commissioning a collection of songs about the annual science theme, gathering a chorus of approximately 70 adults and children, and performing the songs in a series of concerts at the annual Cambridge Science Festival in April. We also seek to have Cambridge Public School classrooms and school choruses participate in the performances of select songs. Additionally, we seek to have enough artwork by local students inspired by the song lyrics to fill the slideshow that accompanies the performances.
Program Long-Term Success  Our Science Cantata’s long-term goal is to have the formidable technology community in Cambridge embrace, support, and become more invested and involved in the program. Singing the engaging music enables participants to learn about various fields of science. Creating the artwork for the accompanying slideshow gives kids, and sometimes adults, a chance to use their studio art skills and imagination. Ultimately, our hope is that the value of the Science Cantata will become widely recognized and that other such choruses will be formed around the country.
Program Success Monitored By  We distribute brief surveys to the audiences at our performances, asking what aspects they found most entertaining and informative. We also survey our chorus for similar feedback.
Examples of Program Success  The festival chorus has performed a Science Cantata at each of the Cambridge Science Festivals (CSF) since its inception in 2007. The response from the performers, audience, and CSF organizers has always been very enthusiastic.

Songwriting Workshops

NCFO has sponsored songwriting workshops in the Cambridge Public Schools since 2008. Each year, the instructor leads approximately 45 sessions across the twelve Cambridge public elementary schools. Since 2011, the songs have focused on the students’ science curriculum; since 2013, a medley of some of their songs have been performed by our Cambridge Science Festival chorus.

Budget  $7,500.00
Category  Education, General/Other Elementary & Secondary Education
Population Served Children Only (5 - 14 years)
Program Short-Term Success  Short-term success involves leading 45-55 songwriting sessions in the Cambridge Public Schools year, with both veteran and new teachers.
Program Long-Term Success  Long-term success involves the a greater embracing by the Cambridge School Department of our songwriting workshops and routinely including them as part of their program of elementary science and music education, as well as integrating songs written in the workshops into the regular science curriculum. Learning through these songs leaves children with long-term knowledge of basic science concepts.
Program Success Monitored By  The success of the program is ultimately measured by the number of teachers who request the workshops for their classrooms each year. We seek verbal feedback from the teachers after the workshops to find ways to learn from and build on the sessions with the class (busy teachers rarely take the time to fill out written surveys).
Examples of Program Success  We have received many comments from teachers saying that the workshops were a wonderful experience; the kids loved it, and often wanted to sing their song for many weeks. In one kindergarten classroom, the students wrote a second verse to their song and sang it at a parent breakfast two weeks after the workshop. In another classroom, a first grade student who was not able to connect written letters to sounds had a breakthrough when he understood that notes on a page represented the sounds from the piano.

Special Programs with Visiting Artists

NCFO sponsors a lecture or performance by a librettist or composer of the current year’s opera or science cantata, providing a chance for the NCFO community and other locals to learn about their work.

Budget  $3,000.00
Category  Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other
Population Served Adults K-12 (5-19 years)
Program Short-Term Success  Short-term success involves producing an event that generates interest in our mission.
Program Long-Term Success  Long-term success involves the people of Cambridge and Greater Boston becoming ever more interested in NCFO, opera, and science cantatas as new musical formats. Audiences will learn more about the composers of these works.
Program Success Monitored By  Attendance at these events.
Examples of Program Success  In 2009, we hosted an evening with William Radice, the librettist of Weaver’s Wedding, a family opera based on a Bengali children's story. The event was held at a local Indian restaurant, where everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner and a compelling talk about adapting a the story for the stage. We have also had evenings in other years with John Kane, who wrote the libretto for three of our operas; David Haines, who composed one opera and many science songs; Richard Milner, who also wrote a number of our science songs; and David Bass, our founder, who composed four of our operas and several science songs.

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

NCFO’s programs create inclusive environments that expand the horizons of both children and adults in music and science. My own family’s experiences have made me aware of the value of having activities in which parents and children participate as equals, especially when there are special challenges that require close parental supervision, but also for families experiencing time stresses or emotional tension. NCFO’s two programs that combine science with music are also close to my heart. My wife and I both studied music intensively in college, then met as engineering graduate students at MIT. We both believe that beautiful music and rigorous science can be mutually reinforcing, particularly in young minds. Our Science Festival Chorus and Science Songwriting Workshops reach more than 1000 children each year.


Management


CEO/Executive Director Dr. David Bass
CEO Term Start Sept 2001
CEO Email [email protected]
CEO Experience

David Bass founded NCFO in 1999 and has been CEO of the organization for 18 years. Dr. Bass has written four of the operas in the repertoire and edited five other, and he is the creative and visionary force behind the organization. He consults closely with Susan Hall, who has a PhD in operations research from MIT and is NCFO’s treasurer (and his wife) on executive and organizational issues.


Co-CEO --
Co-CEO Term Start --
Co-CEO Email --
Co-CEO Experience --

Former CEOs and Terms

Name Start End
-- -- --

Senior Staff

Name Title Experience/Biography
-- -- --

Awards

Award Awarding Organization Year
-- -- --

Affiliations

Affiliation Year
-- --
Member of state association of nonprofits? No
Name of state association --

External Assessments and Accreditations

External Assessment or Accreditation Year
-- --

Collaborations

--

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

With the exception of the songwriting workshops, NCFO's programs don't reach as many of the lower-income demographics in Cambridge as we would like. We address this by:

· charging no fees for participation in any of our programs, relying entirely on private donations, foundations, corporate sponsorships and program ad sales;

· developing closer relationships with the Cambridge Public Schools and other family-based organizations in Cambridge, working through them to reach a wider demographic of families;

· spreading the word about our opera and science chorus programs to students at the CPS songwriting workshops; and

· working with parents who are too busy to participate themselves, either with work or other children, to arrange for other parents to be responsible for their kids at rehearsals and performances.

We are very proud that much of Cambridge views NCFO as a valuable pillar of the community, and we are constantly looking for ways to be welcoming to all members of Cambridge and the surrounding communities to include as diverse a population to our casts and audiences as possible.


Foundation Comments

--

Staff Information

Number of Full Time Staff 0
Number of Part Time Staff 2
Number of Volunteers 150
Number of Contract Staff 7
Staff Retention Rate % 100%

Staff Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 7
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): 0
Gender Female: 5
Male: 2
Not Specified 0

Plans & Policies

Organization has Fundraising Plan? Under Development
Organization has Strategic Plan? Under Development
Years Strategic Plan Considers --
Management Succession Plan No
Business Continuity of Operations Plan No
Organization Policies And Procedures Under Development
Nondiscrimination Policy Under Development
Whistle Blower Policy No
Document Destruction Policy No
Directors and Officers Insurance Policy No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit --
State Registration --

Risk Management Provisions

--

Reporting and Evaluations

Management Reports to Board? N/A
CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency No N/A
Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency No N/A
Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency No N/A

Governance


Board Chair Dr. David Bass
Board Chair Company Affiliation N/A
Board Chair Term Sept 2001 -
Board Co-Chair --
Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation --
Board Co-Chair Term -

Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
Dr. David Bass Community Volunteer Voting
Mr. Phil Budne Community Volunteer Voting
Mr. Chris Edel community volunteer Voting
Dr. Susan Hall Community Volunteer Voting
Mr. Tom Hamill Community Volunteer Voting
Ms. Heather Hoffman community volunteer Voting
Mr. Mark Jaquith Community Volunteer Voting
Ms. Hope Kelley Community Volunteer Voting
Dr. Kathy Lindsay Community Volunteer Voting
Ms. Carla Procaskey Community Volunteer NonVoting
Dr. David Rabkin Community Volunteer Voting
Mr. David Sandberg Community Volunteer Voting
Ms. Aimee Yermish community volunteer Voting

Constituent Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Youth Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Advisory Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Board Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 13
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): --
Gender Female: 6
Male: 7
Not Specified 0

Board Information

Board Term Lengths --
Board Term Limits --
Board Meeting Attendance % 80%
Written Board Selection Criteria No
Written Conflict Of Interest Policy No
Percentage of Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage of In-Kind Contributions 100%
Constituency Includes Client Representation No

Standing Committees

    --

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

CEO Comments - Family opera is a unique concept, one for which there are few other models. For this reason, we require that all members of the governing board have prior experience with NCFO as a participant, preferably with other family members. Further, in addition to providing financial leadership and guidance in selecting properties to perform, each member of the board directs some significant aspect of our productions, either creative or administrative.

General Manager comments - The paid staff of NCFO are also former and current participants. As the GM, I am not only acquainted with the prior programs and participants, but I know through personal experience what NCFO means to those who participate. My three children were in many shows during their childhoods, as was my husband. NCFO and what it gave them in confidence and community are still with them, and is a major reason why I am affiliated with the organization today. My Assistant is a recent college graduate who not only assists in the organization, but still performs in the Operas. Both of us donate additional unpaid time to the opera.

We have a board meeting in April or May, after the Family Opera and Science Festival Chorus productions are complete, to review the lessons learned and to brainstorm for the upcoming year. Our other board meetings are ad hoc, as issues arise. This is the most effective way to schedule NCFO board meetings because all members of the board stay up to date by being extremely active participants in all NCFO programs.


Foundation Comments

--

Financials


Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2014 (%)

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2016 to Aug 31, 2017
Projected Income $90,450.00
Projected Expense $101,250.00
Form 990s

2016 Form 990

2015 Form 990

2014 Form 990

2013 Form 990

2012 Form 990

2011 Form 990

2010 Form 990

2009 Form 990

2008 Form 990

Audit Documents --
IRS Letter of Exemption

IRS Letter of Determination

Prior Three Years Total Revenue and Expense Totals

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Total Revenue $56,244 $62,978 $77,488
Total Expenses $72,692 $61,458 $79,168

Prior Three Years Revenue Sources

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
-- -- --
Government Contributions $0 $0 $0
    Federal -- -- --
    State -- -- --
    Local -- -- --
    Unspecified -- -- --
Individual Contributions $41,571 $54,960 $57,739
Indirect Public Support -- -- --
Earned Revenue $7,319 $4,776 $14,045
Investment Income, Net of Losses $24 $27 $36
Membership Dues -- -- --
Special Events -- -- --
Revenue In-Kind -- -- --
Other $7,330 $3,215 $5,668

Prior Three Years Expense Allocations

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Program Expense $58,630 $61,458 $62,809
Administration Expense $14,062 -- $16,359
Fundraising Expense -- -- --
Payments to Affiliates -- -- --
Total Revenue/Total Expenses 0.77 1.02 0.98
Program Expense/Total Expenses 81% 100% 79%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue 0% 0% 0%

Prior Three Years Assets and Liabilities

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Total Assets $37,512 $47,790 $46,270
Current Assets $37,512 $47,790 $46,270
Long-Term Liabilities $0 $0 $0
Current Liabilities $6,170 $0 $0
Total Net Assets $31,342 $47,790 $46,270

Prior Three Years Top Three Funding Sources

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
1st (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
2nd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
3rd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --

Financial Planning

Endowment Value --
Spending Policy N/A
Percentage(If selected) --
Credit Line No
Reserve Fund Yes
How many months does reserve cover? 7.00

Capital Campaign

Are you currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Purpose --
Campaign Goal --
Capital Campaign Dates -
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount --
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? --

Short Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities 6.08 -- --

Long Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2016 2015 2014
Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets 0% 0% 0%

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

Current Year Projected Revenue and Expenses above does not include any anticipated revenue from The Boston Foundation, but does reflect a total of $29,500 in grants received from the following:

  Robbins / de Beaumont Foundation ($25,000)
  Cambridge Community Foundation ($2,500)
  Cambridge Arts Council ($2,000) 
 

Foundation Comments

Financial summary data in charts and graphs are per the organization's IRS 990s, with the break of functional expenses per the Form PCs on file with the state of MA. Contributions from foundations and corporations are listed under individuals when the breakout was not available.

Documents


Other Documents

No Other Documents currently available.

Impact

The Impact tab is a section on the Giving Common added in October 2013; as such the majority of nonprofits have not yet had the chance to complete this voluntary section. The purpose of the Impact section is to ask five deceptively simple questions that require reflection and promote communication about what really matters – results. The goal is to encourage strategic thinking about how a nonprofit will achieve its goals. The following Impact questions are being completed by nonprofits slowly, thoughtfully and at the right time for their respective organizations to ensure the most accurate information possible.


1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?

The North Cambridge Family Opera Company (NCFO) is a non-profit, community-based organization that produces contemporary, high-quality operas and performances of songs about various fields of science for audiences of all ages, sung by adults, children and teens from the community. NCFO programs offer the following opportunities for children and adults of all socioeconomic demographics:

1. promoting interest in and appreciation for opera

2. promoting interest in and understanding of science

3. providing instruction in singing, dancing, acting and rehearsal skills

4. providing instruction in science songwriting in public schools

5. providing activities that families can share and benefit from

6. providing activities that children with special needs can participate in


2. What are your strategies for making this happen?

1. Promoting Interest in Opera—Opera is a dynamic and exciting art form, but can be intimidating. Operas are often in foreign languages, generally expensive, and sometimes very long, and many think of them as hard to listen to and "stuffy." NCFO performances are none of these things. The cast has enormous fun, and this joy is apparent to the audiences. NCFO performances help remove the stigma of opera and encourage both performers and audience to attend more traditional operas.

2. Promoting Interest in and Understanding of Science—Science is becoming ever more important in our increasingly technological society, and being a responsible citizen requires at least a modest understanding of basic science concepts. Like opera, science can be intimidating, but also as with opera, fun is the antidote (Bill Nye and Mythbusters are fine examples). NCFO’s collections of science songs merge charming poetry, compelling music and accurate scientific concepts. Our rehearsals are punctuated with demonstrations and discussions of the topics we sing about, led by some NCFO members who are MIT graduates. Using music and art to introduce science sparks interest in both.

3. Providing Instruction in Performing Arts—NCFO is unusual in that it accepts anyone who wants to perform and assigns a solo to anyone who wants one, regardless of experience or talent. NCFO provides professional instruction in singing, dancing and drama, including one-on-one vocal coaching with professional singers who are recent graduates from local conservatories. Cast members and their families work on sets, costumes, makeup, sound, lighting and the other behind-the-scenes aspects of the production. These skills learned at NCFO have equipped participants to join other performing groups in high school and beyond. The Science Festival Chorus is directed by Laura Backley, an experienced educator and vocal performer.

4. Providing Instruction in Science Songwriting in Cambridge Public Schools—NCFO sponsors songwriting workshops in the Cambridge public schools led by experienced composer/educators. The students in the workshops reflect the very heterogeneous demographics of Cambridge.

5. Providing Activities That Families Can Share—Music and theater are among the few activities in which all participants share responsibility for the success of the venture, and in which children and adults are equals. This leads to positive changes in family dynamics and helps kids develop their self-esteem and a sense of ownership and responsibility in what they are doing. A real sense of community develops both within and between families. NCFO provides a wonderful activity that busy parents and heavily scheduled children can do together.

6. Families with Special Circumstances and Children with Special Needs—NCFO provides an environment that nurtures growth and healing within families. Many families find the process of sharing the opera experience to be therapeutic. NCFO activities have helped several people deal with a death in the family and other family crises and have made it possible for children with special needs to participate. Since parents are also involved, children with a range of special needs have participated in performances, sometimes even in leading roles. The casts of our productions have included children with Aspergers, autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia and anxiety and mood disorders. We have also had several cast members with physical disabilities or visual impairments.


3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

  • David Bass founded NCFO in 1999 and has been CEO of the organization for 18 years.

  • Susan Hall, NCFO’s treasurer, has a PhD in operations research from MIT and has taught at Babson College.

  • Science chorus conductor Laura Backley is an experienced educator and vocal performer, and she is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.

  • Carmen Denyes, who directs individual vocal coaching of family opera participants, is an experienced teacher and performer, and she is a graduate of the Longy School of Opera Performance.

  • CPS songwriting workshops are conducted by Andrea Gaudette, a prolific composer and educator, with experience in both the Cambridge public schools and private students. She has degrees from New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory.

  • Claudette Beit-Aharon, NCFO's general manager, has more than 30 years experience in education and management, most recently as Vice President of Programming for the Boston International Turner Syndrome Summit.

  • NCFO contracts a highly experienced and capable videographer (Lynn Weissman) lighting designer (David Silber), and sound engineer (Davis Thurston).


4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?

We solicit feedback from participating families.

5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

NCFO has produced a family opera every year since 1999. Our cast size has grown from 24 to an average or 140. For each production the participants are divided into two casts, and solo roles are found for 60 to more than 100 performers. Our audiences have grown from a few hundred to 1500-2500.

NCFO has sponsored are 45-55 songwriting workshops in the Cambridge Public Schools each year since 2008. Since 2011 all the songs have been related to the science curriculum. Many teachers express enthusiasm for the workshops, which are conducted by David Haines, an English composer and educator who visits Cambridge annually.

NCFO has participated in the Cambridge Science Festival every year since the Festival was founded in 2007. Our Science Festival Chorus attracts 40-80 singers each year ages six to grandparents, singing about 20 songs, mostly commissioned by NCFO from 8-10 composers. Each year since 2013, the program has included a medley of the songs written by CPS students in our songwriting workshops.