Welcome note

Bill Peek takes the helm of the Island Community Chorus.

Bill Peek is the new director of Island Community Chorus. — Courtesy Bill Peek

The Island Community Chorus (ICC) has been a major Island institution since 1996, and the group now has a new leader in Bill Peek, who will take over for outgoing director Peter Boak. 

Boak helped found the chorus, and has since solidified it into a highly respected and beloved performing group with singers of all ages, backgrounds, and degrees of musical expertise. Peek, a year-round Island resident for five years now, first was introduced to his new home when he took a job as music director and organist for the summer services at Union Chapel in 2013. From there, he took on the role of music director and organist at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury in 2017. 

Before coming to the Vineyard, Peek served as the music director and organist for the First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., for nearly three decades. Under his direction, the choir and soloists of the First Unitarian Church performed a wide variety of works in concert performance, ranging from Handel’s “Messiah” and the Fauré “Requiem” to rarely performed masterworks by composers such as Rheinberger, Zelenka, Leonarda, and Graupner. For 21 years, Peek was on the faculty of the Portledge School in Locust Valley, N.Y., where he directed the choral program, taught music theory, coached chamber and jazz ensembles, and served as music director for theater productions. He was formerly on the faculties of the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn and the Newark Boys Chorus School.

An active freelance musician, Peek has performed in concert as soloist, accompanist, and director with a number of New York ensembles. He served as a music instructor and consultant for the 2007 Warner Brothers film “August Rush,” and has performed widely with a variety of bands, playing American, English, and Celtic music on piano, guitar, banjo, hammered dulcimer, and bass.

According to ICC member David Behnke, with Peek’s more than 40 years of musical conducting experience, there’s no doubt he has what it takes to bring the group together around some powerful and beautiful pieces that are both challenging and also able to be performed by singers who aren’t professionally trained and can’t read music. “Bill is a tremendous musician. I have done a lot of choral singing and solo work with him at both West Tisbury Congregational and Union Chapel,” Behnke said. “He is a very attentive conductor, and as a soloist, he is a terrific accompanist and partner in music.”

In terms of leadership skills, Behnke said, Peek has all the abilities to bring together an amateur chorus for some truly spectacular performances. Although no one can replace Boak, who Behnke called the “heart and soul of the chorus,” he said Peek is excited about building on Boak’s legacy and not only sustaining the chorus, but expanding it in new and exciting ways. 

Paul Doherty, Behnke’s partner, who also sings in the chorus, said Peek is very cerebral, but also a kind and encouraging person. “I was really hoping Bill would take the job, because there are an awful lot of people in that group that don’t read music. But he is more than well-equipped to take on the task,” Doherty said.

Pam Butterick, a member of the chorus, said the search committee charged with finding a new director had several candidates they interviewed, and Peek came out as the clear choice in the end. “We are very grateful he applied for the job — a musician and leader of his caliber. It’s not a job that is highly paid, but it’s a job with a really high profile,” Butterick said. With a group that has swelled to as many as 130 members in the past, and for a director to lead so many non-auditioned singers, Butterick said, is a monumental challenge. But she is confident Peek is the right person for the job, and said the group already has a significant repertoire of classical and popular music that she thinks Peek will enjoy greatly. “Bill is also a person who does a lot of his own arrangements, so we look forward to singing his own versions of songs that we may know in other forms,” Butterick said. “The music can and must go on. Those little black dots on the page mean nothing if no one sings them! Bill will direct us well, so that we can sing our way into the future.”

Boak told The Times he thinks Peek will be entering into a group with a strong core collection of talented and flexible singers, and they’ll be able to achieve anything he throws at them. “The chorus loves a challenge — while they like traditional music and more familiar stuff, they are also very open to learning new things,” Boak said. He noted that one key to success as a music director is to consider the different kinds of singers in the group, and pay attention to their strengths and needs. “So you have to know how to make the music become friendly to them, while at the same time keeping the people who are musically trained challenged,” Boak said. “It’s a fun balance that I know Bill will be more than capable of accomplishing.”

Peek said he was honored to be asked by the ICC to take on the role of director after having been to many of their concerts in years past. He added that he has admired the work done by Boak, calling the chorus “a real Island treasure.” Peek will start his work with the group in September, and he hopes to make the experience fun for all participants. For Peek, choral singing is a profound way to experience music, make music, and be a part of a community around music. “Choral singing allows singers to participate often in works of great musical genius,” Peek said. “If you are singing a chorus of Mozart, you actually become a part of it, whereas if you are looking at a great painting you can’t really do much more than observe. It’s incredibly special.”