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Children's choir to perform with Boston Pops

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  June 9, 2011 02:30 PM

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Children from a Hyde Park charter school are preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime experience later this month, when they will perform on the stage of Boston’s Symphony Hall.

The Voices of Renaissance Choir will join a slate of other performers for the Boston Pops’ Gospel Night on Saturday, June 18, where they will perform four songs, two in collaboration with the Canton-based Oladipo Sisters.

The choir is made up of approximately 120 students from grades two through six at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School, though most are in third, fourth and fifth grade. Evelyn Lee-Jones, the school’s director of visual and performing arts as well as director of the choir, said the performance would be a chance for the students to show the entire city what they can do.

“I think the Voices of Renaissance is one of the best-kept secrets in Boston,” Lee-Jones said. “They are a powerful choir; they are a disciplined choir. … Their hard work is going to pay off, being in a place like Boston Symphony Hall.”

Many of the students hadn’t been to the hall before and weren’t sure what the opportunity meant at first, Lee-Jones said. But she and James Connor, the choir’s artistic director, taught them about the venue and the Pops’ rich history, and now they are excited to be involved. But are they intimidated to perform in such a grand venue?

“I don’t think our students are intimidated. They are fearless. We’ve gone … to New York and Philadelphia, and sometimes we’ve had some rough audiences.” Lee-Jones said. “We never talk about being nervous. We talk about being confident.”

Part of building confidence is having a steady stream of opportunities to perform in public, which the choir certainly does. Less than a week after their performance at Symphony Hall, the choir will headline the school’s Second Annual Renaissance Soirée: Celebrating the Arts, which raises money to help support the school’s enrichment programs.

Lee-Jones joined the charter school in 1999 as an assistant headmaster, with a directive from its then-headmaster, Dr. Roger F. Harris, to give the school its own choir. (Harris is now superintendent and chief executive officer for the school.)

Lee-Jones and Connor built the choir together and have helped their students earn the opportunity to perform locally, at venues including Faneuil Hall and the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, and around the country, from Georgia to Colorado.

Harris asked that the directors not require auditions but make the choir open to any child who wants to participate.

“If they really want to sing, it is my job and Mr. Connor’s job to teach them how to sing,” Lee-Jones said. But more than just singing, they teach their students to believe in themselves and their abilities to succeed.

“I’m trying to teach them how to be confident, which is part of our mission,” Lee-Jones said. “Because I think that if I can teach them to be confident in the choir, then that will transfer to when they get in the classroom. Then they can stand up and do a speech or stand up and do a presentation.”

Lee-Jones and Connor also emphasize self-discipline. The choir members are expected to behave well, not to be assigned detention or be suspended from school. And while there’s no requirement that they maintain a set grade point average, Lee-Jones said most excel in school because they have learned self-discipline.

“Most of the students are on honor roll, and I think that’s partly because it does require a certain amount of discipline to be in a choir like that,” Lee-Jones said. “Voices of Renaissance students should be different than the other students. That’s sort of my standard.”

The Voices of Renaissance Choir will perform at Boston Pops Gospel Night, 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Tickets cost $21 – $91 and are available at http://www.bso.org/bso/mods/perf_detail.jsp?pid=prod3880208. The choir will perform at Boston Renaissance Charter Public School’s Second Annual Renaissance Soirée: Celebrating the Arts at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 24. Tickets cost $60 are available at http://celebratetheartsatbrcps2011.eventbrite.com/.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.

Connor with choir.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

James Connor, artistic director for the Voices of Renaissance Choir, teaches the students a new song he’s written in preparation for a school assembly.

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