SHEFFIELD — Ryan LaBoy became a music teacher, in part, because he recognized the role that music teachers played in his life.
LaBoy described himself as “a very artistic kid in a place where boys were expected to be very boyish,” adding that he did not play many sports while growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley.
“I sort of fell into a safe space when I joined choir as a young person, and I found a place where my gifts were useful and valued by the people I was around,” LaBoy said. “On top of that, we got to sing.”
LaBoy, the new artistic director for the Berkshire Children’s Chorus, said he wants to “pay it forward” by creating “safe and caring spaces, spaces of purpose” for children across Berkshire County. He comes to the Berkshires from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where he was the founding music director for ComMUSICation, an after-school music program that serves youths from neighborhoods it describes as historically underresourced.
LaBoy holds degrees in choral conducting and music education from the University of Minnesota and Westminster Choir College, respectively, and his expertise is in working with youths with diverse backgrounds and experiences, said Alice Maggio, vice president of the board of trustees for the Berkshire Children’s Chorus.
The chorus, founded in 1990 by Nancy Loder, a Mount Everett Regional High School music teacher who believed that children in the Berkshires should have more opportunities for music education, has welcomed 35 to 55 children each year for 30 years, said Maggio, herself a chorus graduate.
Past ensembles have traveled to perform at New York establishments such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Alice Tully Hall, and the chorus is receiving invitations for several festivals of children’s choirs, Maggio said.
After a year in which the chorus has not sung, and a year during which many young people experienced coronavirus pandemic-related isolation and stress, the organization is “recommitting” to its mission of providing enjoyable opportunities for young people.
“Often in a rural place it’s hard for kids to meet each other, and it’s not like a city, where you can meet people easily,” Maggio said. “We kind of recognize that it’s not just about the music. It’s about the skills you build through singing and the friendships you can have.”
Other goals for the chorus are to diversify the kinds of music that the chorus engages and to form partnerships that expand the group’s engagement throughout Berkshire County.
The group is hoping to start expanding engagement with three summer events where families can meet LaBoy and children can “audition,” which LaBoy said is an informal process for children to get a sense of LaBoy’s personality and which ensemble they might fit in.
The plan is to have one ensemble for children in fourth and fifth grades and one for students between sixth grade and ninth grade, Maggio said. The chorus offers music education to children regardless of ability to afford tuition, Maggio added.
The first event of the summer is an ice cream social, with free ice cream from SoCo Creamery, from 1 to 3 p.m. June 26 at Old Parish Church, 125 Main St. in Sheffield.