Boston Globe, June 30, 2020
By Zoë Madonna Globe Staff
In a typical year, Boston City Singers either goes on hiatus or goes on tour during the summer months before starting a new season in the fall. But no one could call this a typical year, and the Dorchester-based music education program for school-age singers has pivoted from preparing for performances, to serving as a resource hub for its community during the pandemic.
“We realized our young people are probably not going anywhere. They’re not traveling … they’re not doing anything during the week,” said Jane Money, a cofounder of the program that serves almost 500 children and teens with programs in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge. “So we’ve got some programming for them.”
This includes a music therapy program, specifically tailored to the stress and anxiety that many teens are experiencing during the ongoing health crisis, developed by City Singers alumnus and certified music therapist Natalie Condon.
“COVID is trauma on a mass scale, and I don’t think there was as much out there for kids prior to COVID to teach them regulation skills,” Condon said in a phone interview. Teens were already having trouble coping on their own, and with the adults in their lives also dealing with new heights of stress amid the pandemic, Condon thinks it’s vital to create a space for teens to gather (virtually) and learn these skills.
These sessions can include breath work, talking about lyrics that help teens express their feelings, songwriting, or even singing exercises; elongating a note or working in a rhythm can help make them feel more centered, Condon explained. “So that even when they’re away from the group, when they’re having a hard time … they can take some of these skill sets and apply them to their lives. Because they’re already so connected to music, I think it will be a really good outlet for them.”
The sessions will be starting after the July Fourth holiday, to give kids a break from Zoom after the end of the school year. The summer programming will also include an online course for teens on music and social justice, and a collaborative recording project with Dorchester-based musician Nima Samimi, which will honor Black Americans who have died at the hands of police.
Samimi, the Iranian-American lead singer of Americana band Muhammad Seven & the Spring, wrote his song “In the Name of Amadou Diallo” after the 2016 police killing of Philando Castile. Because it includes a call and response, he’d been interested in performing it with a chorus, and the final arrangement gives singers of all ages the opportunity to participate in some capacity.
“From the start, everybody seemed really excited to get to make their voices heard on so central and crucial an issue,” said Samimi, recapping a recent Zoom meeting with the singers.
Even though international touring, a staple of the Boston City Singers experience, may be out of the question for the foreseeable future, international collaboration is still ongoing. For an online choir competition, the City Singers recently recorded the Maori lullaby “Hine e Hine” along with singers from Croatia and New Zealand, including a chorus from Money’s own high school in Auckland. It was “a bit of a struggle” to get the New Zealand schools to record something, Money said. With the coronavirus seemingly subdued in the island country, students there have returned to classrooms and choirs to practice together in person.
Above all, the primary goal at Boston City Singers is to combat isolation by fostering a sense of connection even as the pandemic drags on. “This is a way to bring them together,” Money said. “It’s not just ‘here’s the material that I’m presenting, you go away and do your homework, and we’ll meet again tomorrow.”
New singers can join at any time; information is available via bostoncitysingers.org.
Zoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.