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Song in their hearts

Talia Whyte | 12/18/2008, 7:27 a.m.

Boston Children's Chorus gives voice to city youth

On a typical afternoon at the South End offices of the Boston Children’s Chorus, the voices of children are everywhere — in the songs the kids practice with the chorus’ teaching fellows; in the boisterous peals of laughter that fill rehearsal rooms and accompany recaps of what happened in school that day; even in the heads of parents sitting in the waiting room, thinking about what to make for dinner.

For the youth and their families, the Boston Children’s Chorus is all about voices — the music they can make, the community they can create and the social healing they can provide.

“We are a family here,” said Mary Ann Brennan Newcomb, BCC’s director of development. “We have a social mission here to bring down the social barriers and bring together kids and their families from different backgrounds and racial identities for the common cause of tolerance and understanding.”

Since its inception five years ago, the chorus has become the city’s leading educational organization for uniting youth with the power of song, bringing together children in grades 2-12 to serve as ambassadors for the city through their performances, both locally and internationally.

The chorus is the brainchild of longtime community activist Hubie Jones, who decided after seeing a similar choir in Chicago that it was time for Boston to have its own. When it began, the chorus had fewer than 50 participants. Today, it boasts nearly 300 singers in nine different choirs, ranging in age from 7 to 18.

This is a particularly emotional year for the chorus, as three of its original members will soon be graduating high school. Sherylynn Sealy, 17, president of the Premier Choir, a program for advanced singers, will be graduating from Shrewsbury High School and attending Northeastern University in the fall.
“I love doing this,” Sealy said. “Anyone who has the opportunity to do this should do it. We get to travel everywhere to perform and meet a lot of interesting people.”

The chorus performs at more than 50 events per season, including recent trips to Japan, Mexico and Chicago. They have also performed at a number of notable local events, including the inauguration of Gov. Deval Patrick, the Boston Pops Orchestra’s July 4 celebrations at the Esplanade and the welcoming concert for Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson. Many of the singers are now preparing to perform at a music festival in Oregon.

Their performances have even attracted the attention of heads of state — King Abdullah II of Jordan, who attended a recent performance by the Premier Choir at the Harvard Club, is very supportive of the chorus’ work.

While the opportunity to travel and meet famous people is certainly a bonus to being in the chorus, for many of the singers, the highlight of membership is the chance to interact with other young people that they wouldn’t normally meet. The chorus’ singers hail from more than 50 different cities and towns in the Greater Boston area, representing a wide variety of racial, religious and economic backgrounds.

“The chorus is really interesting,” said Jaleel Johnson, 14, of Dedham, an original chorus member who joined five years ago. “I get to meet new people from all over the city. Being part of this is fun, and it gives me something constructive to do with my time.”

A member of both the Premier and Young Men’s choirs, Johnson must balance his singing with the demands of Pop Warner football and keeping up his grades in school.

While school and other extracurricular activities are important for the chorus’ members, many agree that they are pushed to practice and perform their best by artistic director Anthony Trecek-King, or “Mr. T-K” to his young singers.

“What is so great about these kids is that they are such hard workers,” Trecek-King said. “We have been working on a lot of the psychology behind the music. We don’t just talk about music; we also talk about life in general. Many of the kids come from stressful environments. What I do here is try to make them good citizens who are goal-oriented.”

It’s a mission shared by chorus members’ parents, many of whom engage in fundraising for chorus trips and provide transportation to performances around the city.

Joel Piton is the father of 8-year-old Courtney Piton, who is about to complete her year in the Treble Choir, a group for beginners. Piton travels from Randolph every Tuesday afternoon so that his daughter can participate.

“Courtney has aspirations to be a musician,” Piton said, a guitarist in his own band. “She sings and plays instruments. The choir gives her structure.”

The chorus is now holding auditions for new singers to join for the next performance season, beginning in September.

Dwijuana Reed, 15, of Dorchester hopes more youth from Boston will want to share the experiences of making new friends and using music as an instrument for social change in the community.

“I look forward to coming here everyday,” Reed said. “I feel like I am making a difference in my life.”

For more information about the Boston Children’s Chorus, including auditions, please call 617-778-2242 or visit www.bostonchildrenschorus.org.