Brooklyn Youth Chorus confronts racism, sexism, immigration

‘Silent Voices: If You Listen’ concert series explores current issues

March 28, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus worked in collaboration with the composers to create much of the music that will be presented at the concerts. Photo by Julienne Schaer

An upcoming series of concerts by the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus with the intriguing title of “Silent Voices: If You Listen,” is fast becoming the talk of the borough’s artistic community because of its bold mixture of art and politics.

The concerts, part of a multimedia, multicomposer and multiyear series, will take place on April 27 and 28 at National Sawdust at 80 North 6th St. in Williamsburg.

“Silent Voices: If You Listen,” features the work of female composers who collaborated with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus members to present music that confronts racism, sexism, economic disparity, immigration and the environment.

The composers include: Julia Adolphe, Olga Bell, Anna Clyne, Paola Prestini, Toshi Reagon, Shelley Washington, and Bora Yoon.

The concerts will also feature works performed with guest artist Shaina Taub.

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus is comprised of socioeconomically diverse singers between the ages of 12 and 18 who hail from all over the borough.

The “Silent Voices” series was in the development stages before the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, according to Dianne Berkun Menaker, the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. But after the election, the musical project changed direction to reflect the times, Berkun Menaker said.

“After the election, the importance and interpretation of the work changed just because people’s focus on these issues of racism, sexism, immigration, minorities and climate change became much more personal. All of a sudden the fear and the divisiveness and the categorization, who’s in and who belongs and who’s out, all had very different kinds of meanings. People were frightened, and young people were frightened,” she said in a statement.

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“Silent Voices” is a way for young people to be heard, Berkun Menaker said.

“All young people are in some way also silent voices in society, because they’re so undervalued. But they in many ways are much more evolved in their thinking than many adults. This world is changing in the hands of young people, and it’s time for people to hear that,” she said.

The “Silent Voices” series seeks to provide the singers and the audiences with exposure to the variety of sounds that make up contemporary music, Berkun Menaker said.

“I always want composers to write from their own strengths rather than what they think it means to write choral music, because you’re going to have 40 or more voices with a variety of timbres and the range and interest and flexibility to do just about anything. It has always been my intention to commission a diverse range of composers in the hopes that the end product will be just that open ears, open minds,” Berkun Menaker said.

To develop their pieces, several of the composers and librettists sat in on rehearsals and interviewed members of the youth chorus. They also conducted surveys and requested written responses from the young singers in an effort to draw their insights.

As a result of the collaboration, “Silent Voices If You Listen” includes portions during which chorus members speak the songs rather than sign them.

In another added twist, members of the chorus will be dispersed throughout the audience at National Sawdust to bring the music closer to the audience and to break down barriers between artists and audience members.

Here is the performance schedule: Friday, April 27, at 7 p.m.; Friday, April 27, at 9:30 p.m.; and Saturday, April 28, at 7 p.m.

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus won a Grammy Award in 2005 for a live recording with the New York Philharmonic of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a work by composer John Adams dedicated to the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

For more information on “Silent Voices: If You Listen,” visit www.nationalsawdust.org.


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