Classroom Cantatas

Classroom Cantatas

Cantata Singers views engaging with the communities we serve–both on and off the concert stage–as vital to achieving our mission.

In 1990, Cantata Singers commissioned Slavery Documents by Donald Sur. It was the first of three major choral orchestral works commissioned to date by Cantata Singers with texts exploring the themes of slavery. Slavery Documents’ focus was American slavery, what Mr. Sur called the “unaddressed Achilles heel of United States culture.” Cantata Singers began to see that this work needed to resonate beyond that Symphony Hall performance. Sur’s musical examination of racial inequality and discrimination reminded Cantatas Singers’ leadership of the crying need for meaningful arts education in Boston's public schools.

Out of this time, Classroom Cantatas emerged. Ann Marie Lindquist, Paul Brust, and Judy Hill Bose developed a residency program far more challenging than the typical “come, talk, sing, leave.” Instead, it was one that had the potential to guide Boston’s schoolchildren in finding and harnessing their creative voices. Classroom Cantatas now flourishes in the Boston public schools and, since its founding, has touched the lives of thousands of children.

Classroom Cantatas guides young students in creating their own musical compositions, “cantatas,” even though most of their schools offer no other music programs and most of the students have no formal musical training. In residencies that range from four-week, after-school workshops to 18-session, semester-long classes, students from participating schools work with Teaching Artists—musicians from Cantata Singers—to compose and perform original songs about subjects they are studying in class or about larger cultural and historical issues. Past cantata topics have included the American Revolution, Factors of Weather, Mexican Culture, immigration, the Civil Rights Movements, Mathematics, poetic devices, and the antebellum religious treatment of African Americans.

With the Teaching Artists, the students of participating schools explore ways that music can powerfully communicate words, images and ideas. Together, they choose or even create texts for their compositions. Then, in small groups, they compose their songs, the resident artists translating the students’ ideas into standard music notation. The related songs are then assembled into larger cantatas, and each group begins to prepare for performances of their compositions. The program culminates in a performance with all the participating schools presenting their work to an enthusiastic audience of teachers, families and friends.

Over the past twenty-one years of Classroom Cantatas, students have composed and performed over 300 songs. This music is proof that every child—regardless of background or circumstance—possesses artistic potential; he or she simply needs the tools to express their creative voice.