Enriching the Musical Experience Arizona Tucson Boys Chorus continues the joyful choral spirit

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Julian Ackerley has devoted most of his career to the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

His staff is just as pleased, as they nominated him for the Governor’s Arts Awards. He was a finalist.

“I was excited they thought enough of me to suggest my name,” says Ackerley, who directs the choir.

“I went to the event in Phoenix and found out I was one of the three finalists. I was honored and humbled that it happened.”

The public can see the 78-year-old Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Ackerley in action, as they will perform 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5, at Catalina Foothills High School Auditorium.

The concert will feature Mexican music in honor of Cinco de Mayo and the choir’s March trip south of the border.

“This year, we’re doing songs from (the Pixar film) Coco,” he says. “This is our pops concert and it’s on Cinco de Mayo..”

Classical music is the choir’s cornerstone, but it is known for something else.

“There’s a cowboy component, a Western element, that was added long ago,” he says. “All of our boys do advanced trick rodeo roping. When we’re singing ‘Riders in the Sky’ or ‘They Call the Wind Mariah,’ it’s fun.

“It’s great dealing with young men. It’s very kinetic. It’s subtly competitive, friendly competition. We do full classical concerts, but the Western is what’s really unique to us. When we travel around the country and world, people really remember the rodeo roping.”

The Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus’ mission is to provide local boys the opportunity to have an enriched educational experience through the study and performance of choral music. Boys are not turned down due to financial hardships.

“It’s a nonprofit organization that uses music education as a means for a bigger mission,” he says. “Our goal is to have an organization where young men can thrive and be successful and develop core values.”

The 100-member chorus collaborates with the Arizona Opera, Tucson Symphony Orchestra and True Concord, regularly. It alternates between international and domestic travel.

“We do a lot of collaborative work,” he says. “We also represent Tucson when we tour around the country and world. We went to Mexico in March and we’re headed to China in June.

“For close to 80 years, the organization has been pretty unique in that it’s one of the longest-lasting musical traditions in Arizona and in our country.”

Born in Nebraska, Ackerley moved here when he was 4. He is an alumnus of Palo Verde High School, where he met his wife, and the UA. They have two children. His father founded Ackerley Advertising.

“When I received my doctorate, I thought what I wanted to do was be in a university setting, teaching teachers how to teach music to young people,” he says.

“In the 1980s, I got involved in this program. I’m happy to be here.”

Ackerley has helmed the choir since 1980. He and the choir are regularly honored. He chalks that up to having a “very supportive board of directors.”

“The arts are important,” he says. “We have fundraising efforts, and I really enjoy that part of my job. It has some challenges to it. When I go into that rehearsal at 4, that’s the best part of my day. I think instilling that importance of art and culture into people is joyful.”