The Boys' Choir of Tallahassee
American News Service
At-Risk Boys Find Life Direction Singing in the Choir
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (ANS) -- Earle Lee, director of the Boys' Choir of Tallahassee, teaches boys aged 5 to 17 how to sing. They make beautiful music and are in demand as performers, but singing is not the primary objective of Lee's now 123-strong male voice chorus.
Lee's first goal is to get these boys, the majority of whom are African American and from low-income or disadvantaged families, off the streets, into class and headed for a better future. "It's not about their voice; we don't have auditions," said Lee. "This is all about getting them to achieve academically. We'll take any child that wants to improve."
A social work professor at Florida State University, Lee founded the choir five years ago with financial help from Target Stores, the Freuauff Foundation and a diverse group of community leaders as a way to address the spiraling youth crime problem in Tallahassee.
Members of the choir get counseling and academic tutoring, must participate in three three-hour study halls each week and show up for three two-hour rehearsal sessions. They are also required to attend sessions focusing on self-esteem, literacy, decision-making and social skills.
While singing ability is not a prerequisite, the choir is in high demand and has performed in cities all over the East Coast, including a recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It has visited the Bahamas and in June will be traveling to Italy for a four-city performance tour, Lee said.
More important than the choir's success in booking performances, Lee said, is the fact that no choir member has been involved with the juvenile justice system or school disciplinary referrals since the program began. Members achieve 100 percent school attendance regularly. "The dropout rate is nonexistent," said Lee, adding that 85 percent of members were on their schools' honor rolls in 1997-98.
The secret, Lee said, is simple. "This is really show business for these kids.What can be more motivation when people stand up and applaud after a concert? When they get that kind of positive feedback, they won't go the other way. Why would they want to do crime?" Another reason the boys do so well, Lee said, is that they have no time to get into trouble. "They're too busy studying, traveling and performing."
In the five years since the program began, the nine choir members who have graduated from the choir, and high school, have all gone on to college, Lee said. "These were all at-risk kids," he said. One is a psychology major, two are engineering majors, one is an architecture major and four are studying business and finance. "They keep in touch with us and each other and they often wonder what they'd be doing if they didn't join the choir," Lee said.