What first struck new Artistic Director Ryan LaBoy about the Berkshire Children’s Chorus (BCC) was the intergenerational nature of the organization; young choristers, their parents, and alumni all play an important role in building the choral community in the Berkshires. The nonprofit, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, was founded as a way for students in the Southern Berkshires to develop their singing skills and learn a more challenging repertoire than what is offered in school.
Since its start, Board President Alice Maggio estimates hundreds of students have passed through the program. The BCC has historically been composed of three different internal choirs: junior choir for grades 1-5, senior choir for grades 6-9, and coda for grades 10-12. While their home base is the Old Parish Church on Main Street in Sheffield, the chorus has traveled regionally to Cape Cod and New York City and even internationally to Italy, France, and England.
A recent transplant from Minnesota, LaBoy is a trained musician who has taught singing to choristers from first grade through college. He brings to the chorus a passion for sharing music with audiences and teaching singers to develop their voice. As a child, singing allowed LaBoy to connect with people whose values mirrored his own and build community, a gift he strives to pay forward. He is excited to bring a new, creative perspective to the chorus as it rebuilds after a challenging year while singing activities were on pause.
The act of group singing may have been the most hard-hit activity during COVID. Thanks to assistance from local cultural councils, the chorus was able to sustain its operations and launched online programming, called “Take the Lead,” through which alumni offered workshops to the public to share how their experience with the chorus shaped their career paths. More than just singing, the chorus provides invaluable mentoring relationships and lifelong friendships. Maggio reflected on the confidence she gained while participating in the chorus growing up and how beneficial it has been for her: “The way you learn to listen and work with others translates to all aspects of life.”
Inspired by the rolling hills, and the desire to conduct programming in a safe space, the first program of the year will be held outdoors. The “Take a Hike” concert will lead young choristers on a walk through the woods where they will perform pieces, sight-read new songs, and learn from practitioners about local conservationist efforts. LaBoy explained his creative vision: “When we reach a beautiful vista, we’ll stop and sing as the moment inspires us.” Musicians will be planted along the trail to accompany the singing. To make it accessible for all, the program will be livestreamed for the public.
What LaBoy loves about music is how it allows people to travel without leaving their homes. Whether it’s a Polynesian children’s song or an 18th century Mozart piece, singing can give a sense of time and space, location, and community. Maggio added, “There’s so much to learn about a different culture and style of singing that reflects a place.” This understanding invites a deeper appreciation for one’s own community. Maggio and LaBoy draw the parallel that the work of the Berkshire Children’s Chorus is about enriching the lives of people in the Berkshires through music, similar to how BerkShares inspires a conversation regarding the importance of community, connection, and local resources. The success of initiatives like BerkShares and the BCC, Maggio said, “depend on respect and accountability to each other.”