By Cindy Atoji Keene
Conductor Anthony Trecek-King never intended to study music, let alone become the director of a children’s choir. Born into an Air Force family from the South, he had wanted to be an engineer since he was 10 years old. When he received a scholarship to study music, he considered it a temporary detour. But a few weeks into classes, he was called into the office of the music department chair, who asked him, “Have you ever seen anyone like you on the podium conducting?” Trecek-King, who is African American, said “no,” and after this conversation, an idea was planted, which grew into a passion. “That day set me on the path to becoming a conductor,” said Trecek-King.
Today Trecek-King, 36, is the artistic director of the Boston Children’s Chorus, an innovative arts education organization that uses music as a catalyst for social change as it unites children ages 7-18 across diverse socioeconomic, racial and religious backgrounds. The chorus, which began with a handful of children in a pilot training program, serves nearly 500 singers in 12 choirs in five Boston locations. “I’m sharing my love for music with a new generation of musicians. Music changed my life – why not provide that opportunity for other people?” said Trecek-King, who said that underserved, low-income youth often need help finding their voices, not just on the stage, but also in their lives.
Q: Do children need to audition for the choir?
A: It’s a quick and easy audition; many children have no prior musical training – they just need to come in and make a few noises. With the state of music education in the city, we try not to turn people away if they really want to do this. It’s more about how well the child can focus rather than musical talent. Kids learn at their own pace.
Q: What is a typical rehearsal like?
A: It starts with a warm-up for; we practice sight reading and then go through the paces. What makes our rehearsals different is that they are somewhat democratic. Singers have a lot of input into what needs to be done. Once in a while we’ll also have a discussion about something completely non-musical, such as racism or homelessness. We’re trying to develop not just singers but also better citizens.
Q: How do you communicate your ideas as a conductor?
A: Mostly it’s non-verbal, with gestures, such as the way I move my hands through space. Or perhaps it’s the way I look. All these send a message to the singers. It’s cool when things are clicking. But when the hands break down, which is inevitable, I’ll use an analogy, ‘I want this to be like this.” As a last resort, I’ll demonstrate and sing the way I want them to sing.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away after a concert?
A: I hope they are immersed in the experience. It’s a journey between me, the choir and the audience. The audience has two to three minutes to get the message of the music that we have been working on for weeks. How do you convey that to the audience? Once the note is sung, it’s out there and it’s gone.
Q: What CD would you bring with you to a desert island?
A: I wouldn’t take anything. I don’t relax by listening to music. If my wife and I are traveling in a car and hear a song, I start analyzing how I might tackle that particular piece or how I can get my group to sound that good. It turns into work-related thoughts. So I would just bring myself and make my own music.