When Amber Rodriguez – a senior at Chelsea High School (CHS) – walked onto the stage last Friday to accept a National Arts and Humanities Youth Award from First Lady Michelle Obama, it was the second time she’d seen the First Lady up close.
However, in a way, the two situations were related in that they both involved the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) – an organization that Rodriguez has been involved in for a decade.
In that decade, Rodriguez said she has learned that despite being a young person, she has a voice. That was punctuated by one of the highlights of her young career – performing with the BCC at the Boston Marathon Bombing Interfaith Service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.
“It might sound cliché, but BCC has given me a voice,” she said. “I’m 17 and it’s easy to think you can’t make a difference in your community and don’t have a voice. After the Marathon Bombing, I felt so useless because I couldn’t do anything to help people feel better. However, we were asked to perform at the Interfaith Service and the president and his wife were there, several other familiar political faces and victims and family members of those who had been hurt. As we sang, just looking at their faces let me know I made them feel better. I felt like I played a role in the healing process for Boston. It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do and I couldn’t have done without my membership in BCC. That opportunity was very important to me.”
So to, was last Friday, when Rodriguez – the daughter of School Committeeman Carlos Rodriguez and Ana Marie Rodriguez – served as the student ambassador of the BCC in order to accept the certificate and $10,000 award from Mrs. Obama.
“It was incredible and so overwhelming,” said Rodriguez this past Monday. “I was nervous and excited and had all types of emotions. She was so nice and had such nice words to say to all the winners. BCC chose me because I’ve been in the organization for such a long time and I showed what BCC stands for and was an example of someone who has showed a change over the years while in the organization.”
BCC was recognized as an innovative arts education organization that unites children across racial and socioeconomic divides. Chosen from a pool of more than 350 nominations and 50 finalists, BCC was one of 12 programs across the country to receive the award, which is the highest honor such programs can receive in the United States.
“Through these programs, young people are discovering their creative voices, developing a stronger sense of who they are as individuals, and gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them,” wrote Obama in the program for the award ceremony. “And, as young people navigate today’s challenges, the programs we are honoring offer safe harbors that cultivate enthusiasm for learning, support academic achievement, and promote college readiness.”
Rodriguez said she has been interested in music and singing since she was born, but got the nudge to try out for the BCC from her third grade music teacher at the Kelley School.
“I remember singing ‘Row, row, row your boat’ several times at the audition and they accepted me,” she said. “The organization has been in existence for 11 years and I’ve been a part of it now for 10. I’ve been singing all my life and I love anything to do with music.”
After going through the ranks of the BCC, Rodriguez said she is now in one of the two premiere choirs. They practice in Boston’s South End twice a week and act as mentors for the younger members.
Rodriguez said she was in the choir at the Clark Avenue Middle School, and at CHS, she has participated in the Contare and several of the plays – including Hairspray, Ragtime, Rent and the upcoming Wizard of Oz.
Rodriguez said she wanted to think her parents and brother, Carlos X. Rodriguez. She also wanted to thank BCC Director of Programs Ben Hires, Founder Hubie Jones, Artistic Director Anthony Trecek-King and Executive Director David Howse.
At the moment, Rodriguez is in the process of choosing what college to attend. She said she might not study music, but music will definitely be part of her life.
“I still don’t know if I’ll study music, but I think I’d be crazy not to do something with music because music has been a huge part of my life since I was young,” she said. “If I don’t study music, I am definitely going to do something with music. No matter what, BCC has prepared me to do anything I want to do.”