Creating Connections

Michael Wu Teaching An SCC Group
Strathmore Childrens Chorus Performing At An Offsite Event
Strathmore Childrens Chorus Raising Hands In Class


In his own words, Strathmore Children’s Chorus Artistic Director Michael Wu explores the transformative power of singing. 

By Michael Wu

I grew up at 10th and I Streets in Northwest Washington, DC, above the main location of my family’s souvenir store chain. Its success allowed my maternal grandmother, uncle, and aunt to immigrate from Indonesia to help with the business. Growing up outside Chinatown, I attended a school and a church where just about everyone looked like me. 

After my parents divorced, I moved with my mother and her extended family to Montgomery County. We were among the first minorities in our White suburban neighborhood, and I was bullied at elementary school because I was one of the few non-White students. It was a struggle to feel like we belonged in the suburbs. 

It didn’t help that while my classmates and friends were riding bikes and climbing trees, I was busy with chorus practice and music lessons. My mother saw an ad in the weekly circular for the Men and Boys Choir at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase. We rehearsed three times a week and sang at Sunday morning services. But it turned out that my love of music is what helped me connect with others and find a place where I belonged. 

Music is a universal language and, according to Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, has the power to engage people spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. It teaches empathy and understanding, especially when students learn and share music from different cultures. This principle is at the core of the collective work at Strathmore and has formed the essence of my role as artistic director of Strathmore Children’s Chorus (SCC) since 2017. 

Over the years, SCC has dedicated an entire concert called Our Voices, Her World to women composers, and our Music from the Americas performance included songs chosen in collaboration with Diana V. Sáez, now director of choral activities at Towson University. We’ve explored music from Central and South America as well as Native American and Afro-Cuban traditions, in dialogue with culture bearers to avoid cultural appropriation. All our concerts feature global music and works by African American and women composers. 

Music educators want students to see themselves in the music they are rehearsing and performing. During the pandemic, which was also a time of racial reckoning and social justice, I had the privilege of serving as the local chapter president for the American Choral Directors Association. Over Zoom, I was able to learn from and be a resource for choir directors looking to add multicultural repertoire to their concert programming and music education curricula in meaningful ways. 

Strathmore Childrens Chorus Singing In Rehearsal

Choirs not only offer children the opportunity to make cultural connections but also to learn that their voice matters. In his 2019 TED Prize talk, global music education leader José Antonio Abreu explained that music ensembles “are examples of and schools of social life because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence.” 

In addition, a 2019 Chorus Impact Study from Chorus America found that 90 percent of singers contribute to their communities, from volunteering and supporting charitable causes to participating in local and national elections—compared to 55 percent of the general population. 

SCC alumna Lana Anderson is one of many current and former SCC participants whose love of music and singing intersects with their desire to make the world a better place. She founded a nonprofit called Small Things Matter to provide community support through food, literacy, and charity crafting programs. Its motto is “kid-powered kindness for those in need.” 

Singing was my ladder up from a humble past to making a positive difference, and it inspired my career path. Now, it is my privilege to teach music education and to help the next generation of aspiring choral musicians learn empathy, make their own connections, and find their place of belonging. 

See the Strathmore Children's Chorus live alongside other incredible local youth ensembles in the Maryland Young Voices Festival on April 27 in the Music Center at Strathmore.