Peter Boak will pass the podium

Music director of the Island Community Chorus will retire.

Peter Boak has been conducting the community chrous for 25 years. — Gabrielle Mannino

Music director Peter Boak is retiring after 25 years at the helm of the Island Community Chorus. He let the chorus know at rehearsal this week, after telling the board of directors last Friday. He told The Times that he is ready to step away, and that the chorus is ready for new challenges from a new leader.

“We’re all at a good place,” Boak said, “and I feel good about what I’ve done the past 25 years.” He will stay through December, and the chorus’ annual winter concert. Boak plans to stay at his position as minister of music at Edgartown’s Federated Church.

In her third year as president of the ICC board, Pam Butterick spoke at the rehearsal, telling the chorus, “After directing us, challenging us, giving us incredibly wonderful musical experiences, helping us to grow in ability, giving us orchestras to sing with, commissioning new works, inspiring us, making us laugh and making us cry and making us sound good, this caring and wonderful man called Peter will be retiring from the ICC after the December 2020 concerts.”

Butterick has been with the chorus since 2002, and has served on the board twice. She said it’s been one of the best experiences of her life. After she told the chorus about Boak’s plans to retire as music director, she announced that they will commission a new piece of music dedicated to Boak and composed by Thomas LaVoy, who wrote the Nancy Luce Cantata performed last year. The music will premiere at the ICC’s December concert, Boak’s final performance as conductor.

Boak first led the Island’s public performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in 1994, and after his second year of leading the choir in that program, one of the chorus members came to him and said, “Is there any reason why we can’t keep singing?” Their first performance was at a celebration of the new Hebrew Center building in 1996, with around 40 members. Now the ICC, made up of 120 voices, gives three performances a year, in the spring, summer, and at the holidays.

“There’s been a community chorus on the Island since before the beginning of the 20th century or right after,” Boak said. “There was a men’s chorus, and over time it became coed. There were some lapses, and then someone would come along and revive it. A form of the chorus has been on the Island for a hundred years, so what we’ve done for the past 25 years wasn’t a new concept. We just revived what had been dormant for awhile.”

He said he couldn’t pick a favorite performance from the past 25 years, because whatever performance he works on at the time is his favorite: “It’s hard to say, they’re all so different. The one we work on in that moment is my favorite concert.”

Boak said he’ll turn 70 in September, and has been on a podium in front of a chorus in some “way, shape, or form” for 52 years. He has Island roots; although he was born in New Jersey, Boak’s family has been coming to the Vineyard since 1904, when his grandmother’s aunt first visited. “Everyone has followed in her footsteps,” he said.

He said he’s enjoying working with the new minister at the Federated Church, the Rev. Richard DenUyl Jr., and looks forward to continuing to direct the music there, and to enjoying ICC performances after he retires.

What will he miss most about conducting the ICC? “Seeing the people’s satisfaction when they learn something they didn’t think they could learn,” Boak said.

He said he’ll “absolutely” be going to ICC performances after he steps down. And his advice for the new director? “Be flexible.”

The first Island Community Chorus concert of 2020 will be on April 4 at 7:30 pm and April 5 at 3 pm at the Old Whaling Church. The theme is a tribute to spring, and will include a 16th century madrigal by Thomas Morley, “Now Is the Month of Maying,” as well as George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”