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Ambassadors of harmony

FOUR YEARS ago, Boston educator and activist Hubie Jones saw the Chicago Children's Choir perform and saw a vision of excellence and social diversity fulfilled. Jones says he once imagined that school desegregation would spark such outcomes in Boston. But today the schools are resegregated and music is too often seen as a frill, not a cultural force.


So Jones braided two ideas: learn from other cities and use special events to catalyze action. Based on the work of Jones and 90 city leaders, the dedication ceremony for the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge included a performance by the Children's Bridge Festival Chorus. This was the precursor to the founding of the Boston Children's Chorus last October.

The chorus will sing Monday night at the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, part of a performance of the Chicago Children's Choir that will benefit their Boston peers. Or, as the invitation explains, the group "will launch a singing revolution on Martin Luther King Day that will leave no corner of the city untouched."

It is childish ambition in the best sense.

"It's a way to build community from shared joy and pride," says Muriel Heiberger, the chorus's executive director. Children ages 7 to 14 come from Boston's neighborhoods and suburbs. They work together. Their parents get to know one another. There is a concert choir for children with more experience and two training choirs. There is the power of the music -- of being in a world where time and sound are used like paint. There is the education, learning to understand clefs, read notes, manage breathing, then translating these skill into singing and forging the singing into a performance.

Darren Dailey, the chorus's artistic director, points to the "strong texts" in the songs and the power of hearing them from children. Among the works the chorus will perform is a Shaker hymn called "How Can I Keep from Singing." Its first verse: "My life flows on in endless song; /Above earth's lamentation / I hear the sweet though far off song / That hails a new creation: / No storm can shake my inmost calm / While to that refuge clinging / It sounds an echo in my soul, / How can I keep from singing?"

Jones expects chorus members to become ambassadors, traveling to other cities and countries. Adults will have the delightful and important chance to take children and their talents seriously. And the whole city can join in, making philanthropic investments and working to ensure that schools -- especially public schools -- have real music education: teachers with time and resources, pianos and not just boom boxes. All Boston-area children should have the chance to sing.

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