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Children’s choir aims to diversify voices, remove barriers to participation

A new children’s choir for Douglas County third through sixth graders boasts only one requirement: a love for singing. No auditions, no fees, no experience nor church membership required.

Cantemos — which means “let’s sing” in Spanish — even supplies the concert T-shirt for its members.

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Emily Boedeker, director of Cantemos Youth Chorale, said the board’s overall vision for the group is inclusiveness. As a music teacher in the Lawrence school district, Boedeker said she and fellow music educator and Cantemos board member Lysette DeBoard had witnessed students in the Title I schools where they teach missing out on musical opportunities, often because of economic barriers.

Lessons, rentals and registration fees, Boedeker said, can add up to hundreds of dollars or more per year for a child. And for families with more than one child, the costs multiply. “It was like almost a passion project of, ‘How can we provide meaningful experiences for these kids with no barrier?’”

“This is something I very much believe in,” Boedeker added. “I think we need more equity in our children’s programming … surrounding the fine arts.”

“The more I interviewed and talked to our board and learned more I was like, ‘This is where I need to be. This is the place that we can make some music and maybe make a difference.’”

The name “Cantemos” had already been chosen when Boedeker came on board, but she offered some background. The group wanted a name that could double as a snapshot of local youth while encapsulating the goal of inclusivity, she explained. “Everyone in our community is not white or from Kansas.”

Cantemos is for everyone, she emphasized. “We have kids who are homeschooled. We have kids who attend private school. We have kids who come from single-parent homes, same-sex parent homes. We have kids who were adopted. We have kids who have (a lot of) siblings. We have kids who have zero siblings. I want this choir to be a snapshot of our community and to do that, everyone needs to be able to come. I think we’re building something that could be really amazing.”

Future plans, Boedeker said, might include expanding membership to older youth. Since Cantemos launched in the spring, 30 members have joined, including Boedeker’s daughter, Adelaide. Together, they’ve attended summer music camp and learned a variety of songs.

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Boedeker’s grandmother, Yoshiko Bogard, who emigrated from Okinawa, Japan and now lives in Lansing, paid the group a visit recently. She helped the singers learn the lyrics for “Hitori,” a Japanese folk song.

Boedeker said it was special to share her family’s heritage with choir friends. 

“At the heart of everything we are a community choir. Because we wanted to be world-focused, global, we’re doing several songs in different languages. ‘Hitori’ is actually talking about the longing for home, or the longing for the community you are missing. It was kind of interesting to hear my grandma — who has not lived in Japan since 1957 — talk about her longing for home, relating to the girl in the song. It was really neat for the kids to hear her take on it and also have a native-Japanese speaker teach them Japanese.”

In keeping with the theme of community, the chorale invites the public to its free inaugural concert. Titled, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (after the theme song from ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’) the concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 New Hampshire St. Guest performers include the Lawrence Ukulele Players and area music teachers who will play instruments alongside their students. A reception will follow.

Contributed/Emily Boedeker Members of Cantemos Youth Chorale pose for a photo at Trinity Lutheran Church in November 2021.

Boedeker said that although Cantemos is not part of the church’s organizational structure, the chorale practices there weekly and several board members have a connection to Trinity. Donations from community members also help support Cantemos. For information about donating to the choir, click here.

Cantemos can accept new members throughout the year, but semester breaks are an ideal time to start. “January’s the perfect time to join because we’re learning all new music. We’re starting fresh,” Boedeker said, noting those who would like to join can complete a Google form.

Rehearsals will restart Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. For more information, visit the Cantemos website or Facebook page.

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— Tricia Masenthin (she/her), reporter, can be reached via email at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com.

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