The D.C. Boys Choir is a rare gem in today’s choral world. Started in 1993 by the inimitable Eleanor Stewart, the choir came to fruition at a time when crime in the nation’s capital was high and many inner city youth were exposed to a great deal of violence. For Ms. Stewart, the choir was her way of getting some of them off the streets.
The choir is a racially integrated group made up of boys mostly from the District of Columbia but also from Maryland and Virginia. Over the years, Stewart has brought in hundreds of boys and taught them to read music. She also showed them the art of singing, and did so by exposing them to an eclectic variety of music in multiple languages – including jazz, opera, and gospel. They also use sign language for the hearing impaired.
The choir’s mission statement is to “identify musically talented young male students and help them to develop self esteem by revealing and nurturing their creativity through artistic expression.” And to this end, the choir has succeeded in spades. From performances at the White House, the Kennedy Center, and the Basilica of the National Shrine in D.C., all the way to England, Austria, and China, the choir has expressed itself across the world.
Stewart retired from teaching music in the Washington, D.C. public school system in 2000, but has kept the boys choir active – despite a precipitous drop in funding over the years. She never talks about retirement or getting tired. “I just keep going!” she recently exclaimed to John Wiscombe, our company president.
The choir’s most recent venture (or adventure, depending on one’s perspective) was to participate in the American Celebration of Music in Italy during the summer of 2015. With weeks to go before the tour, the group was $75,000 shy of being able to cover the costs of the trip. As Ms. Stewart stated in a Washington Post article last summer, after requesting help with funding in an earlier Post article, many donors came to the choir’s aid.
According to the article, not only did donors send enough to close the shortfall, but there was also enough left over to help some of the boys buy better-fitting jackets — and make sure everybody’s jacket was the same shade of red. They also were able to get travel bags to keep their outfits from wrinkling.
Ms. Stewart recently shared the following letter with us about the tour experience, and with her permission we’d like to share it with all of you.
The D. C. Boys Choir’s Concert Performance Tour to Italy is one that will be remembered for many years. The choir was well received at each of concert venues. We had the most wonderful, attentive and appreciative audiences who enjoyed every moment of our performances. The boys were quite surprised by all of the attention they received. They were clearly in awe of the warmth and friendliness of the Italian People. We received many wonderful compliments, bravos and applause from all of our audiences. The choir was very pleased to sing for them in Italian, Latin and English. We were able to share a well rounded repertoire of classical, spirituals, jazz, and contemporary music. In addition, all of our performances were well advertised which drew large audiences. The choir also showed their skills in being able to sing using sign language and choreography in various selections.
We had many memorable experiences. One of the most memorable was the honor of singing at High Mass in the Vatican. From the moment we were met by our guide, we felt special. I could see how proud the boys were to be in such a historic and marvelous venue. This is where the Pope says Mass and we were there representing our country America!
The people seemed quite amazed at the passion and beauty of boys’ singing. Our wonderful tour manager, Anna Scrocca said something very unusual happened at the end of Holy Mass; the people moved to the choir clapping their hands. It really made us feel proud that they enjoyed and liked us. Three of our choir members who are Catholic were invited to take Communion during Mass. After Mass we were invited to take photographs in a special and beautiful area in the Vatican. We cherish those photographs. While there we left two letters for Pope Francis saying that we would be honored to sing for him when he came to Washington, DC.
We were deeply moved by the reaction of our wonderful audiences at our performances at Basilica di Sant’ Eustachio, participating in High Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Santo Lorenzo, and participating in Mass at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Father Don Antonio of Sante Vstachio was so moved by the boys’ singing that he made a long speech about them and asked for an encore. We returned his request by singing the Italian Song “Va Pensiero.”
The entire Italian experiences we had in Italy have had a profound, positive and lasting impact on the choir. They describe the trip as fabulous, exciting, enjoyable and great! The D. C. Boys Choir, staff, musicians, chaperons and parents left Italy with a wealth of history and deep understanding of the culture of the Country.
We wish to extend our sincere gratitude to Music Celebrations International for a most memorable educational and musical tour to Italy. You gave us Ms. Anna Scrocca, the best tour manager ever and we all fell in love with her. She truly met all of our needs and we will never forget her.
MUSIC CELEBRATIONS INTERNATIONAL IS TRULY THE BEST BY ALL STANDARDS!!! Many, many thanks for your patience, kindness, caring and true friendship.
Founder and Director
D.C. Boys Choir