Kenneth Griffith leads Boston’s new changemakers through music

The Boston Children’s Choir is a local treasure like no other. Since 2003, BCC has stunned audiences around the world with their critically acclaimed music, performing in countries such as Japan, Australia, Cambodia and many more. It provides children with a comprehensive musical education while teaching them about the transformative power of music.

This transformative power feeds into the broader mission of the Boston Children’s Chorus: to empower young leaders to use the power of music to unite Boston’s diverse communities. World-renowned guests and high-profile leaders—including former President Barack Obama—scored and helped further develop a social curriculum for creative approaches to social justice.

So when it came time to find a new director, who would be only the third director in BCC history, a year-long nationwide search led back to Boston. It turns out that the ideal new director already worked for the BCC, Kenneth Griffith. The Boston Children’s Choir’s new music director has joined GBH’s All things considered host Arun Rath to discuss his new role and the past, present and future of BCC.

Arun Rath: I should disclose right at the beginning – the bias was probably dripping from my voice in this introduction – but I love BCC and my daughter is in BCC. So you are already a familiar face to us. But, as I hinted, you were already in the KSB. Tell us about what you do and how you originally came to Boston Children’s Chorus.

Kenneth Griffith: I have experience in teaching choral music. I was a high school teacher and the Boston Children’s Choir asked me to be the co-conductor of the Premier Choir, which is their advanced high school ensemble, as well as the recruiting manager, a new position coming after the pandemic. We wanted to re-engage the communities and think about how we can build our membership again to do the good work that the organization does.

So I came in as the recruiting manager and conductor for the Boston Children’s Choir and really enjoyed the experience I had there. Working as a recruiting manager, I got to go to all kinds of different schools in Boston and the Greater Boston area to offer workshops and get to know the community of teachers and singers that ultimately make up the body of the Boston Children’s Choir. During my time there, I codified programs and workshops at various schools and engaged students from across the city back into the community at BCC and the after-school program.

I became Associate Director of Choirs at BCC last fall, leading all artistic programming, planning concerts, and really thinking about our programming from the inside out—and building on the great work BCC already does.

Rath: Can you share what excites you about Boston Children’s Chorus? What made you come here, and once you were here, did you decide you wanted to be a director?

Griffith: From the first interview, listening to the senior executives who were part of this process talk about social issues, the questions they asked about diversity, equity and inclusion were things that immediately resonated with me. I knew this was a special place, that these singers would be very intelligent, that these singers would be dedicated and passionate, and that these singers would want to use music for more than beauty. It’s beautiful to have that — and to use this music and this powerful tool that we have as an opportunity to engage communities on topics that really matter.

And then being in rehearsals with the singers and experiencing the artistry at a high level, being able to engage in conversation with them, and then also having such a diverse and supportive and extremely talented cast of conductors, teaching assistants, assistant conductors and collaborating pianists with whom we work regularly. It’s just a privilege to be here and a dream opportunity. So when this opportunity came up – to be the music director and to be at the helm of such a great organization – I jumped at the chance.

Rath: With these times we live in right now, there are times when BCC’s awareness of civil rights history and its connection to the social justice movement just becomes that much more poignant than ever. Is the job of connecting these communities more difficult now? What has changed in this type of work?

Griffith: The great thing about BCC is that it was founded in 2003 with Hubie Jones, who is a civic leader interested in social issues and a driver in this space. So from the beginning, the work that the Boston Children’s Chorus has done: we’ve raised social issues and concerns—and music and artistry—at the same time. They were hand in hand, it’s part of the DNA of this ensemble, of this group, of this community. In this way, nothing is different. We care about these issues and make sure all our topics and issues speak to the communities and the issues they experience.

As we have entered the political discourse in the last few years and it has become much more charged, people have a harder time learning to express themselves in ways that lead to conversation, growth and change, or at least understanding.

Kenneth Griffith, newly appointed music director of the Boston Children’s Chorus

Kenneth Griffith

I think our work at the Boston Children’s Chorus has become much more important – more important than it used to be. In our rehearsals, we teach our singers to ask questions, to disagree with each other, to know how to empathize, to understand the experience that someone else may have, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and be able to have one experience at its core, understanding at heart and being a deep listener is at the heart of what we do at BCC and our rehearsals. So our singers at BCC are specially equipped to do this and be the people who make the difference.

Rath: The big local event for BCC seems to be the Martin Luther King Jr. concert we had last month. Kenneth — there was tremendous energy, and I know part of it was the feeling of coming back from the pandemic, but it felt bigger than that. What do you think about that? Am I imagining this?

Griffith: No, I think you’re right on the money with that. This year, as it’s our 20th anniversary, it’s a big deal for the Boston Children’s Chorus. Our season is entitled “We Are” and it is a season of reflection, of assessment, of vision for the future.

During this concert we had the opportunity to reflect on Martin Luther King’s time in Boston – at Boston University, marching through the streets of Roxbury and meeting the love of his life at the New England Conservatory and thinking about: What does it mean to be this great figure, to be this monument? And to see ourselves in it.

I think at this point, to look at all the wonderful work that the Boston Children’s Chorus has done since its inception and to think about what we can do in the future, it’s just a very exciting time and full of possibilities. I think BCC has a unique opportunity to spark this next new generation of change makers and artistry in our city.

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