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Behind the Scenes: Opus Performing Arts School to open Sept. 15 in downtown Bellingham

Professional musician Martin Kuuskmann helps Isabella Pennoyer of Woodinville play the bassoon during the annual Blaine Jazz Camp at Blaine Middle School Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Blaine. The camp is part of the 12th annual Blaine Jazz Festival which runs through Saturday with daily performances at noon at G Street in Blaine and at the  Blaine Performing Arts Center at 7pm.
Professional musician Martin Kuuskmann helps Isabella Pennoyer of Woodinville play the bassoon during the annual Blaine Jazz Camp at Blaine Middle School Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Blaine. The camp is part of the 12th annual Blaine Jazz Festival which runs through Saturday with daily performances at noon at G Street in Blaine and at the Blaine Performing Arts Center at 7pm. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Sharp-eyed Herald business editor Dave Gallagher spotted a permit application for a dance space at the former Sportsman Chalet at 114 W. Holly St.

He knew I’d be interested, so he gave me the link: opusbellingham.com.

It turns out that Opus Performing Arts School is the product of two families - Martin and Tiiu Kuuskmann, and Allan Redstone and Marie Christenson, who have children involved in dance and music.

Martin says they want to create a place where talented artists and instructors from the area can come together to form an academy-like setting to guide students in the performing arts.

He said that in talking with people in the community, and from their own observations, they found that although there are talented individuals in the community, an organized effort to foster cooperation among those individuals was lacking. Opus, he says, will be a place where artists and professionals can come together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to guide youths and adults along their path to developing in the performing arts.

They plan to open the center Monday, Sept. 15.

Martin Kuuskmann, a Grammy-nominated, world-renown bassoon soloist, and Tiiu Kuuskmann, a former dancer with Goh Ballet in Vancouver, B.C., and an accredited teacher in the Cecchetti ballet method, will be the artistic directors and will design the curriculum in music and dance.

The programs will be taught by a variety of professionals, with master classes at the studio and opportunities to perform.

Martin says the dance school will have classical ballet at its core, with instruction in modern, jazz, tap and hip hop to broaden a dancer’s training and experience.

Programs will be available for toddlers and preschoolers who would like to explore movement and music, and school-age dancers will be introduced to ballet technique. For serious dance students, Martin says, Opus aims to provide a well-rounded approach, including education in body conditioning and anatomy, health and nutrition, and dance history.

The school will hold recitals throughout the year at local theaters, and will invite guest choreographers to work with dancers to produce full-length ballets in the winter and spring.

The music division will offer a comprehensive experience for instrumentalists and vocalists, with specialized coaching in chamber music groups and an opportunity to participate in audition-only orchestras and choirs. The program will include weekly training in music theory, ear training and rhythm training.

The core of the curriculum will be based in classical music, but teachers will expand to such genres as jazz, pop, rock and fusion in the near future. Instructors will start the music program in the fall with auditions for a classical children’s choir.

Programs for toddlers and preschoolers will be in the mornings and afternoons, including drop-in sessions with children’s performer Dana Cohenour. The school-age program will be afternoons and evenings on weekdays, and on weekends. There also will be regularly scheduled and drop-in classes for adults in the mornings and evenings.

Martin says Opus will not offer private lessons, but will channel students to teachers if requested.

He’s pleased with the Holly Street location, because the space is airy with natural light, has a beautiful vintage wood floor, and has 15-feet-plus ceilings. Opus, he says, will be family-oriented, with a waiting area with Wi-Fi and coffee and tea, and space for young siblings to play while they wait.

Martin says the response from performing artists in the area has been enthusiastic.

“Universally, they express excitement over the opportunity to work under one roof in a unified program where they can teach their artistic disciplines to willing and motivated students, work collaboratively with their colleagues in an artistic setting, and not be weighed down by the challenges that often accompany operating an individual business that can take a toll on the artistic output,” he says.

Scholarships will be available. Details: opusbellingham.com, 360-610-3792.

MEMBERS SOUGHT FOR BELLINGHAM THRESHOLD SINGERS

Janis Walworth, president of Bellingham Threshold Singers, a group of women who sing songs of comfort to people who are critically ill or dying, let me know that the group is seeking more members. The nonprofit, volunteer group began about seven years ago and is part of an international network of threshold choirs.

“We sing for people of any faith or no faith,” Walworth says. “Our service is free. Our volunteers learn how to blend their voices as they practice our unique repertoire of lullaby-type songs written specifically for bedside singing.”

Singers don’t have to read music or have any experience singing. The group rehearses at Jerns Funeral Chapel, at Sunset Drive and James Street, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Visitors are welcome.

Walworth says the group also offers a compassionate singing class for women who want to learn bedside singing. The next class begins Sept. 16 and meets at Jerns from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays for 12 weeks. A $60 donation for the class is requested.

To register for the class or to request a sing, call Walworth at 360-927-4384. Details: bellinghamthresholdsingers.org, or on Facebook.

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