Life experience, singing and music since 1964
The choir is not just a collection of voices. It is also a collection of stories, of experiences, of friendship and diversity.
One example of this is the Coro dei Piccoli Cantori di Milano, a children’s choir that, for almost 60 years, has been one of the most important artistic players in the capital of Lombardy.
Founded in 1964 by Niny Comolli, the choir, now directed by Laura Marcora, is composed of almost 90 boys and girls from a wide range of backgrounds.
The Associazione dei Piccoli Cantori aims to enhance children’s singing potential through the study of singing, with a focus on the social and humanly constructive dimension of the musical experience.
For many children who come from challenging backgrounds (e.g., from families with low incomes or of foreign origin), this experience is a way of overcoming stereotypes and the difficulties they encounter on their path to integration. Talent is the key to becoming one of the young singers of Milan: every year, director Laura Marcora selects – through auditions in schools or oratories – children with pronounced musicality and a natural predisposition to singing.
These selections also take place in the peripheral areas of the city, contributing to children from all walks of life and nationalities joining. And it is precisely the ability of the choir to overcome the limits set by starting conditions that constitutes the real vocal and cultural wealth of the Piccoli Cantori di Milano.
Every year, over 30% of these children’s families cannot afford the fee required for lessons, but the choir, which has always been interested in inclusion, uses donations from organisations, companies and individuals, to ensure that these children have the opportunity to cultivate their talent. But the choir is not only about singing: being a part of the choir provides children from foreign families with an even greater opportunity: that of feeling that they are part of a group, which favours the integration of children (and parents) in the metropolis. Because a choir is not just a collection of voices; in the choir, stories and lives also overlap. ‘When I sing, I’m happy because we’re all singing together, with lots of people,’ says Chiara, who joined when she was just 4 years old and is now 12. ‘It’s nice because it’s a group where everyone knows what they have to do. The most beautiful thing is to be all together. Despite the differences in age and diversity we are a good group, very united.’ ‘Chiara,’ adds her mother, Silvia, ‘never wanted to be a soloist.
There have been songs and concerts in which she has sung as a soloist, but for her, singing is singing in the choir.’ She also emphasises how enriching the experience has been for her: ‘Over the years we have spent evenings together, afternoons in the park, our free time. Sincere friendships have been created. We have had the opportunity to meet families from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and China. ‘In spite of the differences,’ she emphasises, ‘once they arrive at the choir, the children are all the same.
And the concept of inclusion is also underlined by Francesca, now a university student in Riga (Latvia), who was part of the choir from ages 8 to 13: ‘When I was in the choir, there were children of many ethnicities with me, but when I was a child I never paid attention to this “diversity”. I never paid attention to the colour of their skin, their parents’ clothes, their different family backgrounds.
To me, they were the children in the choir.’ ‘When you’re a child,’ Francesca adds further, ‘you don’t pay attention to these distinctions: when I think back, I never cared about “diversity,” I think it’s something you maybe pay attention to as you get older.’ ‘The choir has given me and my friends extraordinary experiences: we performed in Palermo at concert to commemorate Giovanni Falcone, we performed at the Quirinale, we have sung on many television shows. It was an experience that changed me, teaching me how to relate to many different people.’ The children who are in the choir now also emphasise the impact this experience has on their lives. ‘When I’m in the choir, I feel important,’ says Nethuki, 13, whose parents are originally from Sri Lanka. ‘I didn’t think I was good at singing; in fact, I thought I sang out of tune.
Then I was selected for the choir during an audition at my school. Since I’ve been a part of the choir I feel like a real musician, now I’m also attending a musical middle school, I play guitar and I’m very good!’ For Nethuki, like for many other boys and girls over the years, the choir has provided an opportunity they otherwise would not have had. ‘If Laura (the choir director) hadn’t come to hold an audition in my classroom,’ Nethuki continues, ‘I never would have gone to singing school and never would have started singing.
Now I would like my younger brother to start singing in the choir too, but he still has trouble with the words in Italian.’ ‘I’ve been directing the choir since 1986,’ says Laura Marcora, ‘and in over 30 years I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of children pass through it, each very different from the next.
But there has always been a common thread among all the little singers: passion for singing and talent. In the spirit of the choir, this is what counts and, for this reason, our association wants to offer everyone the same possibilities and opportunities, overcoming the limits related to the economic, social and cultural situations of the families of origin.’