An abundance of young faces richly expressive of America’s diversity voiced a harmony at once musical and cultural. Words of Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman rang out distinctly in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Calderwood Hall Saturday afternoon. The choral sing also involved a retelling of the story of Boston civil rights activist Ruth Batson. Alternating singing with storytelling, some simply choreographed, some accompanied with percussion, Greater Boston singers aged 7-18 raised the classroom experience to another level. We listened, we watched, we felt, and we learned.
The Boston Children’s Chorus’s commitment to both musical and cultural elements shone brightly. Lush jazz sonorities, spirited gospel melodies, the classical four-part vocal medium of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, a Steinway piano, all mingling:
I dream a world.
I dream a world where man, no other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth and peace,
its paths adorn. –Hughes
Each of us inevitable.
Each of us limitless —
Each of us with his or her right upon the earth. –Whitman
Probably very few remember the slogan “art for art’s sake” especially now more than a century after its introduction to aesthetic circles. Looking around these days the phrase even seems laughable, another case in point, STAY OUT FOR FREEDOM from the Boston Children’s Chorus. “Artistry,” we were apprised, would be in evidence, and, sure enough, it was throughout much of the dozen choral pieces offered. No straining for words allowed us to listen even more intently on all things musical. Ultimately though, those lush jazz chords and spirited gospel riffs with apt piano accompaniments reached hearts of many in attendance.
With the Boston Children’s Chorus, music just might very well be the universal language, and with that our future is certainly looking all the brighter. Yet, along with that hope and expectation, comes the stark reality that for decades the Boston Public Schools decimated music education. Today, few lights appear. Not all that long ago, the Boston Arts Academy was established. Recently, a substantial gift to East Boston’s music program was announced. And BCC’s return to the Gardner Museum since Covid struck in 2019 remains one of the brightest of lights—BCC is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The preamble to BCC’s STAY OUT FOR FREEDOM: “A graduate of the Boston Public Schools (1930), Ruth Batson was an activist whose work for educational equality and the integration of Boston schools spanned over 30 years. Her activism radically transformed these schools; yet access to quality education is still something parents, students, and educators are fighting for. Join Premier Choir and Recital Choir as they call for educational equity and speak from personal experience about barriers in the local education system.”
Newly appointed Director of Choirs Kenneth Griffith joined with Assistant Conductors, Destiny Cooper, Joshua Glassman, and Mahima Kumara, along with Collaborative Pianists Jacob Hiser and Jenny Chou. From these dedicated educators the young choristers drew support, resulting in an inspiring message spoken and sung. An African-American spiritual from Boston Children’s Choir exemplified this with virtuoso speaking and singing:
Soon, when we come together,
We stand up for each other, we
Will offer these hands and feet and
Be love, compassion and grace: come heaven to earth,
oh, we will be