“Sing through me, put a hole in me, put it up there at the very top of the stairs.”
It’s a gray, dull Thursday afternoon in the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Barbara Lee Family Theater, and Anthony Trecek-King, the artistic director of the Boston Children’s Chorus, is encouraging his charges to “be very aggressive.” The chorus, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is rehearsing at the ICA in preparation for concerts there on May 31 and June 1 that will feature the world premiere of “A Boy Called King.”
The multimedia piece was commissioned by the BCC and the ICA from Haitian-American composer Daniel Roumain, whose works include “Voodoo Violin Concerto No. 1” and “Hip-Hop Essay for Orchestra.” The libretto is by poet, playwright, and performance artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who presented his multimedia show “red, black & GREEN: a blues” at the ICA last year. The dance component is by the San Francisco–based choreographer Amy Seiwert.
The BCC isn’t actually rehearsing “A Boy Called King” today. For one thing, Roumain is still working on the music. But, Trecek-King explains, “It’s good for us to get into the space ahead of time. We’ll be asking the kids, ‘How do you feel?,’ we’ll be experimenting with how they stand, and I’ll do crazy things like having them stand way at the top.”
Not only does Trecek-King spread the chorus members around the theater in various configurations, he himself sprints to row J to hear how they sound from there. Otherwise he conducts standing on a wooden box, with rehearsal pianist Sarah Koonce playing a portable keyboard in front of him. He treats his singers like professionals. They discuss the ambience of the theater, which he characterizes as dry, and how well they can hear one another.
The mission of the BCC, he says, “is integrative, music as a catalyst to create social change. Our idea is to bring different communities together, knowing Boston’s history of being divisive.” Funding, he adds, comes from “family foundations, foundation support, individual giving, some corporate support, and, of course, very very little government support. There are actually 12 choruses. We have 450 kids in 12 different choruses in five locations, South Boston, Dorchester, South End, downtown, and Allston-Brighton. But those 450 singers come from as far away as Worcester and Andover and New Bedford. We do between 30 and 40 performances a year.”
The ICA appearance came about, he says, because “I think that when people hear Boston Children’s Chorus or children’s chorus, they think it’s going to be like a school concert. So I wanted to do something at the end of the 10th anniversary that was really big and significant in the world of arts. And the location was very important to me.”
David Henry, the ICA’s director of public programs, chimes in. “I met Anthony about three years ago and was impressed by his vision of bringing some of the best contemporary composers to do work with the Children’s Choir.”
That led to the idea of a joint commission. “I didn’t know Marc or Amy,” says Trecek-King, “and I didn’t know Daniel, either, but I was aware of his work. And David enlightened us about the work Daniel was doing.”
“Daniel did one of the first performances we did here at the ICA,” Henry recalls.
As to the subject matter of the piece, says Trecek-King, “It was sort of a turn these guys loose.” He says he and Roumain did discuss what the BCC is about and his wanting the commission to connect with the chorus’s mission. “And when we talked with Daniel,” Trecek-King goes on, “he said, ‘You know, Marc and Amy would be great. I just did a project with them.’ ”
That would be “Home and 7,” for Atlanta Ballet. Joseph, over the phone from his home in Oakland, Calif., says, “Daniel and I were backstage at Atlanta Ballet, and he talked about the King Kong myth as a parable for racial justice in the United States. The libretto for the piece came out of Daniel’s concept.”
“A Boy Called King” has to do with a boy who’s rejected by an older woman. “Maybe it’s a lover,” says Joseph, “maybe it’s a teacher, maybe it’s a mother. But the idea is that this woman, for whatever reason, has turned her back on this boy.” And his libretto, he says, “plays with Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech and also the iconic mythology of King Kong and really mashes them up together to tell this story of isolation from a young boy’s perspective.”
“A Boy Called King” won’t be the only world premiere on the ICA program. There’s also, says Trecek-King, a set of four Arabic-English pieces by Seattle composer Eric Banks to verses by the celebrated Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani. There’ll be a piece from Venezuela and one from India.
The BCC will have a busy spring leading up to the ICA appearance. Sunday, April 7, it’ll join the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus, whose mean age is 69, in “Boyz to Men,” a multigenerational festival of male voices at Wellesley Village Church. On April 23, it’ll take part in Big Sing East 2013, a gathering of choirs at St. Cecilia’s Parish in Boston. It’ll present its “All Choir Season Finale” at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester on May 20.
And after the ICA concerts, says Trecek-King, “We’re heading off to Vietnam and Cambodia in late June. I think it’s 16-day trip. About 65 kids, and then the adults that go along. We’ll have about an hour and a half worth of music, basically our whole season distilled down. I think when we travel, particularly outside of this continent, bringing our stuff to them is really great, and then bringing back music from those specific areas is really cool.”
More information on performances:
“Big Sing East 2013”
At: St. Cecilia’s Parish, Boston, April 23. Tickets: $2. www.bostonchildrenschorus.org
“All Choir Season Finale”
At: Strand Theatre, Boston,
May 20. Free performance. www.bostonchildrenschorus.org
“A Boy Called King”
At: Institute of Contemporary Art, May 31-June 1. Tickets: $27-$30. 617-478-3103, www.icaboston.org