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Dorchester church choir offers refuge to young boys

Twelve-year-old Mayal Levy of Dorchester said he enjoys the challenge that the All Saints Choir of Boys and Men gives him.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Twelve-year-old Mayal Levy of Dorchester said he enjoys the challenge that the All Saints Choir of Boys and Men gives him.

In the quiet of the evening, they sang, their voices rising in angelic melody.

They are young boys, some barely tall enough to see over their music stands, some straining through cracks in their voices.

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But they had come, as they do twice weekly, to sing sacred music.

Here in the basement of the Parish of All Saints, an Episcopal church in the Ashmont section of Dorchester, the boys find refuge from pop music and Facebook. Here, the boys, ages 7 to 18, bond over Gregorian chants and Mozart.

The music is different, difficult, yet timeless.

“This music is not for old people,’’ said 11-year-old Nicholas Lesse of Dorchester, pausing during a break one evening. “It’s for everyone.”

Only 10 of the 30 boys in the choir attend the church, which is marking its 125th year with a major restoration project. The choir is open to boys of all religious denominations; no musical experience is required to join, and new participants are always welcome.

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“I like it because it’s a challenge,’’ said Mayal Levy, a 12-year-old from Dorchester.

Kareem Munroe, 16, of Dorchester, said participating in the choir is better than sitting at home.

“It’s something to do,’’ said Munroe, who has been in the group for eight years.

In the basement of the church one evening, the boys gathered around tall black music stands, their gazes fixed on the sheet music in front of them.

Andrew Sheranian, the organist and master of choristers, towered over a raised Roland digital piano and emphatically doled out tips to his young charges on striking the right harmony.

He showed them the high notes, the sweet spots, and explained tempo.

The boys listened closely. Some grabbed their pens and took notes. Sheranian made them repeat each line until he was satisfied.

“That was beautiful,’’ he exclaimed.

The choir has been defying assumptions that children, particularly black children, will not be able to relate to the classics, Sheranian said one Sunday.

Given the opportunity, and professionalism, he said these boys often thrive.

“What this church has shown is that kids are drawn to quality, to excellence, and they love being held to standards of excellence,’’ Sheranian said.

The church has recently linked up with the Harvard Glee Club, where a member, Michael Raleigh, mentors the boys, training them when their adolescent voices begin to change from tenor to bass.

In an upstairs room at the church on Thursday, Raleigh played the piano while the boys around him warmed up their voices.

He told them they were pushing too much. “Try not to push with your chin,’’ he said. He told them to use their tongues to round out the words.

He then announced that on that day the boys would be singing music by a different composer.

The boys, hunting in their backpacks for black leather folders with sheet music, whispered under their breaths: “Mozart. Mozart.”

But Raleigh had someone else in mind: a piece by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford.

The boys let out a quiet, collective sigh of disappointment.

Afterwards, Joseph Edwards, a 17-year-old Boston College High School student, explained why he is pulled to Mozart: The Classical-era composer is unique and challenging, he explained.

“It’s different from regular pieces that I’ve done,’’ said Edwards, a longtime member of the choir. “It’s cool when you hear it later, and then it’s like, ‘Wow. I was just singing that.’”

Edwards, who began singing in the choir in the second grade, said he has long found comfort in choral music. But the church and the choir held him up in 2009, when his family lost all their belongings in a fire. The Sunday after the blaze, tears welled as he sang a solo.

“I just cried,’’ Edwards recalled. “That is why music is so important to me. It was my way of venting.”

On a recent Sunday morning, the boys, dressed in black robes, filed under scaffolding inside the church. They sang alongside men during Sunday service.

As they sang, mothers prayed, children quieted, the elderly closed their eyes.

A hush filled the church.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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