All together now
Boston Children’s Chorus director Anthony Trecek-King gets young voices to sing out for justice
After 10 years as the artist director of the Boston Children’s Chorus, you’re now taking on the role of president as well. You’ve said you plan to up the organization’s focus on social justice and race and cultural harmony. How so?
Now that we’ve built a platform where we feel comfortable with where the growth is on the artistic side, we want to dig a little bit deeper and solidify the social justice side of our mission. So we’re being a little bit more intentional, particularly with the younger students, on developing programs to get them to understand, see, and value differences. We are also doing it with things like our upcoming Martin Luther King Day concert though the performance itself.
I noticed the title of the MLK concert is “Raw Truth.” What is that supposed to suggest?
It has a double meaning. The special group that we have coming in is “Room Full of Teeth,” and they use their voices in a very raw and real way. In terms of the other meaning, we’ve been ignoring certain conversations, ignoring certain topics, and kind of glossing over them and I just want us to get to the truth of where we are in society and then begin to deal with it.
One very deliberate part of the chorus is to draw kids in from different racial backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different communities. Do you ever have to deal with conflict and issues that arise among the kids?
One of the most successful things that we’ve been able to achieve here is to create a safe space where people feel comfortable being themselves and bringing their whole selves to the rehearsal. We don’t really have to deal with those conflicts, but it’s not that we don’t deal with differences or different opinions. But everybody feels that their voice is being heard and that they’re able to have these rich conversations. We’ve talked about Ferguson and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. We’re talking about all this stuff, and their schools are being encouraged not to talk about it. I can understand that. If I’m a public school teacher, it’s a dicey topic. But the exact opposite is true here. If I didn’t talk about it, then I might be getting myself in trouble because it’s really who we are and part of what our mission is.
The idea that just singing together can help address race or cultural issues might be dismissed by some. People even convey that through a well-known metaphor when they said you can’t solve things by just holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Yet you seem to think singing can be powerful in that way.
Yeah, I think music is unique. First of all, singing in a choir is a communal activity where every voice matters and everybody can contribute to a common goal. When you’re seeing people that are not like you working toward this common goal, that’s incredible. But even further, music is unique in the sense that it allows us to access emotion, either through the songs themselves or through the common experiences that we have together. That’s unique. If you look at other things with common goals like playing sports—and I’m a huge sports fan—it’s not quite the same palette of emotions that you can draw out from singing together.In 2012, the Boston Globe named you one of the 25 most stylish Bostonians. What has that meant for you?
Pressure. A lot of pressure. I have to take an hour now in the morning figuring out what to wear.