Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vienna Boys Choir Goes Pop

One of the most controversial, well okay, the most controversial CD I have in my collection is a 2002 release, The Vienna Boys Choir Goes Pop. I first learned of it when I saw three of the songs on another CD, Les Plus Belles Chorales D’Enfants, which is a great compilation album of lots of great choirs.

The three songs there were My Heart Will Go On, All You Need Is Love, and Eternal Flame. I liked all three and thought they were much better than the originals. I would rather listen to WSK than Celine Dion any day.

Other songs on the CD are perhaps less… wisely chosen. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the Vienna Boys Choir, but I wasn’t anxious to hear them cover Talking Heads with Burning Down the House or Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. Actually, I kind of liked the soloist’s voice on the Metallica song. Their covers of Enya and The Police were pretty good, too.

If there is any disappointment in this CD it can’t be blamed on the boys, but is solely the responsibility of the director who chose the songs. I’m not saying that I didn’t like it, but a lot of people criticized it. Try to imagine WSK covering Prince, Madonna, Back Street Boys or Earth, Wind and Fire.

To make sure that it wasn’t just my opinion I went to to read some of the reviews there. They seemed to be one extreme or the other, one star or five stars. Here’s some comments:

“How Sad”, “Not their style”, “What horrid crap!”, “Perhaps the greatest gag gift ever”, “The worst CD ever”, “Are you people deaf?”

Those were one star comments, but several people praised it instead. They said, “Better with each listening”, “Wow!”, “I think it’s great”, “… It grows on you”.

There are a couple of comments from the boys themselves on the inside of the CD.
Matthias said, “I liked the project. It was fun to sing songs which you usually hear on the radio or on MTV.”
Josef said, “We weren’t sure initially how some of the songs that we normally just like to listen to would sound sung by us - but the result is pretty cool.”

The Vienna Boys Choir is very versatile and I think it’s fun to see them branching out and experimenting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Saw Libera

I just got back from Atlanta where I saw Libera perform at the Peachtree Presbyterian Church, a large complex in the swankiest part of town. It was really nice.

The thing I usually don’t like about general admission seating is that I never know what to expect about the size of the auditorium, what sort of crowd will attend, and what time to arrive in order to get a good seat without standing around for hours before hand.

This time everything worked out well. The place was pretty full and by counting the number of pews I estimated that there were around 500 fans in the audience. At ten dollars each that doesn’t add up to a lot of revenue so they made a low key pitch for donations.

I had hoped that Atlanta, a city of 2 million people, would turn out in bigger numbers for such a special occasion, but the people who did come were enthusiastic, even if they had never heard Libera before.

My friend and I headed to the balcony and grabbed the front row center spots. We had lots of elbow room, which is always good, and a great view of the stage. Despite the paucity of the ticket sales, Libera didn’t stint on their programs. They gave us full-color, eight page booklets with good pictures of all the boys who came. It was an excellent thing for them to autograph.

I was curious about which boys would be there and especially which veterans. Alex, Ben, Jakob, Jonathan, Josh, Liam, Sam and Tiarnan were all there plus 14 younger boys. Kavana and Freddie Ingles were excellent speakers and made us all laugh. Ben is always wonderful at clowning around.

When I saw Libera in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago the atmosphere was electric. The theater was packed with excited fans and so many people wanted autographs afterwards that the boys had to sign in shifts which meant that I only got half of the autographs that I wanted. This time I was determined make up for that so when we had coaxed an encore from the boys and everyone was standing up applauding I made a dash for the fellowship hall where, it had been announced, a queue would form after the show. I managed to buy a couple of things from the merchandise table and still was first in line for signatures.

While we waited for the kids to change and unwind we chatted with the church’s music director who told us that Libera wouldn’t be going home until Saturday so some fun activities had been planned for them. Someone was hosting a pool party and there was a chance of going to Six Flags Over Georgia. Fiona was ill, although you couldn’t tell it from her playing, and was flying back today.

I passed down the line with my program and all of the boys were super friendly and sweet. In Pittsburgh I got nervous and tongue-tied and forgot all of the things I wanted to say, but this time I was a lot more relaxed. I found out that they don’t actually get tired of people telling them how wonderful they are, that they are excited to be touring and meeting people, and that Josh’s little brother, Matt, will probably be on the next tour.

I also found out something that few other people know. This is a scoop. Remember, you saw it here first… Mini-Ben’s birthday is January 6th.
In other lists that I’ve seen of Libera birthdays, Ben’s was just listed as January, with the day unknown, so I asked him.
Okay, so I’m not really the first to find out, but I’m ahead of the BCSD site.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

England, My England

When I was ordering A Year at King's I noticed another CD from King’s College that I, somehow, didn't own so I sent for it, too. This one is a 2009 release called England, My England and it's a 2 CD set that is sort of like a greatest hits album. It sounds a lot different from the other one. Unlike the a capella singing in A Year at King's most of the pieces here are backed up with some great organ music or by the New Philharmonia Orchestra or by the Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. Although, there are still some that are voices only.

Each CD has 20 recordings (9 are listed as new) for a total of more than 2 ½ hours of beauty. It starts and ends with coronation music: Zadoc the Priest (Handel) and I Was Glad (Parry). Did you know that those two pieces have been sung at every coronation since their premiers?

This is from the liner notes: “In between are motets ancient and modern - from the miniature If Ye Love Me and the architectural splendour of the 40-part Spem in Alium to William Harris’s dramatic double-choir Spenser setting Faire is the Heaven; well-known psalms sung to Anglican chant; and favourite hymns, notably All People That on Earth Do Dwell, arranged ceremonially for another coronation, that of Elizabeth II.”

There are familiar and popular pieces like Ave Verum Corpus (Byrd), When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Rutter), Magnificat in G (Stanford) and the Hallelujah Chorus (Handel).

I was particularly taken with Requiem-Requiem Aeternum (Rutter). It’s really a wonderful piece. I think I’ve listened to it over a dozen times.

I often wonder if it's just me or does everyone experience this, where the first version that I hear, and like, of a particular song becomes my favorite, and, no matter how many other versions I hear, that first one will remain my favorite and the one I judge the others by. Abide With Me, I Vow to Thee My Country and Jerusalem are really good on this CD but I think I prefer Libera’s version of them. Of course, I may be a little prejudiced.

Anyway, great CD, great choir. I wish they would come to my neck of the woods. Maybe if I write to Dolly Parton she could invite them to Dollywood. It’s just up the road a piece. Hey, it could happen. I can just imagine Sir David Willcocks enjoying a funnel cake.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Choir of King's College

I’m sure that by now everyone knows that Libera is touring again and this time they’re coming to my part of the US. Do I have my ticket? What a silly question.

One morning, a couple of days after the tour schedule was posted, I awoke from a funny dream where I was telling people, “the British are coming, the British are coming…”.

Libera is not the only good news I’ve had lately. Today the postman delivered my new CD from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. This is a special CD titled A Year At King’s and it contains 16 choral works that span an entire year in the Church calendar and follow Christ‘s life from Advent to Ascension.

This is also another one of those CD’s that you should listen to with the lights dimmed and all distractions put aside. Kick back in the La-Z-boy recliner with a glass of wine and your headphones so you can really pay attention to the singing. The layering of the voices is complex and rich, and the trebles are especially sweet sounding. Once again the choir is singing without music, but they don‘t need it.

Most of the 16 pieces on this CD are new to me, and that’s usually a good thing. I like new things. Tavener’s version of Away In A Manger is really different from the version I’m used to.
Other unfamiliar works are Eccard’s When To The Temple, Wood’s Tis The Day Of Resurrection, Stanford’s Coelos Ascendit Hodie, and some others. They’re all good.

We all have a lot of versions of Allegri’s Miserere in our collections, but this one is one of the best. I’m always amazed and thrilled at how the boys hold those long, pretty notes for such a long time.

I first noticed the Choir of King’s College when I watched the Merchant-Ivory movie Maurice. There is one particular scene at King’s College that gives us a quick look inside the chapel while the boys are singing Miserere. The scene lasts less than a minute, but I usually rewind and listen to it a few times.

Here they follow up Miserere with Barber’s Agnus Dei, which is a perfect pairing. Both are very haunting, ethereal compositions that are sort of hypnotic and very relaxing.

Anyway, this is a great CD. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s one of those EMI OpenDisc CD’s. Those things annoy me when I want to listen on the computer.

I wish I could get back to a regular posting schedule. I’m trying, only I don’t have a lot of new things to write about right now. Oh, I do have a few CD’s that turned out to be not very exciting, so it’s a little hard to get enthusiastic about them. I do have some on order and I hope they will be more interesting.

When I was looking at A Year At King’s I came across another CD by them that I didn’t have in my collection so I’m writing about it next time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

There are a lot of things to like about the Vienna Boys Choir. They adhere to a very high standard of quality in their music and they have been the leading ambassadors of boy choir music around the world for a long, long time. WSK is actually four choirs that are all versatile and able to sing Classical music, Folk music, Chinese songs, American standards, Rock and Pop, anything. Well, I don’t think I’ve heard them do Rap or Country but that’s probably another thing to like about them.

On top of that, they have the friendliest web site of any choir I have found. You can ask questions to their Guestbook and they will answer you, usually the very next day. I’ve written to them several times and they are always kind and informative. That can’t be said about other choirs that I’ve emailed with questions. Often I don’t receive a reply at all. I won’t mention any names (coughlibera).

It’s fun to visit their site to look at the pictures which are plentiful and updated often.

Wiener Sangerknaben has re-opened their shop after taking it off-line for updates. They are once again selling their Teddy bears in the little WSK sailor suits so I ordered one and it arrived today. It’s so cute standing on my CD shelf. I just have to keep my niece from seeing it or she will swipe it. She can be really grabby for a five-year-old.

I also received a CD that I have wanted for quite some time, I Am From Austria. This is sort of an odd CD because I don’t know how they chose these particular songs. They don’t seem to have anything in common, except that they are all very nice.

The first few are movie songs like Singing in the Rain, Over the Rainbow and Chim Chim Cheree.

Then there are some Broadway numbers like If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler on the Roof, Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord, from Godspell, and a stirring version of A Wonderful Day, from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd (I love that title).

There are Folk songs, Loreley, and Danny Boy, and Classical songs like Heidneroslein, by Heinrich Werener, and the Brahms lullaby Sandmannchen.

For more modern, pop songs there is Morning Has Broken, Wir Wollen Gemeinsam Singen (Let’s Sing Together) and the title song, which I like a lot, I Am From Austria.

I also have to mention that when they sing in English their accents are adorable.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Phoenix Boys Choir

Something that always makes me laugh is an episode of the Simpsons where Homer runs into and knocks over a statue of a deer. The dialog goes:
Homer: Doh!
Lisa: A deer.
Marge: A female deer.

I was reminded of that scene recently when I got my CD from the Phoenix Boys Choir titled Drops of Golden Sun, which is, of course, the second line from that Sound of Music song Do Re Mi ... "Ray, a drop of golden sun".

These boys are pretty charming and sometimes they sound like the Vienna Boys Choir, which is probably because their director, Georg Stangelberger, worked with WSK for twelve years as Deputy Artistic Director.

The CD has a variety of songs from Hungarian folk music to Mozart’s Magic Flute. There are four Copland pieces that are nice, including one I hadn’t heard, Zion’s Walls, which they refer to as a Revivalist song.

I really like the song Cantate 2000. It’s very pretty and the harmonies are nice and smooth and it’s about twenty minutes long.

There is also The Lonely Goatherd and Do Re Mi by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and three songs by Peter Marschik. My favorite of all, on this CD is Rutter’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You, a song that isn’t sung often enough.

Two songs are by the Men of the Phoenix Boys Choir, Down in the Valley and Let All Men Sing. The first is surprising good and the second I didn’t really care for. Oh well.

A little something about the Phoenix Boys Choir: Founded in 1947, the Phoenix Boys Choir has programs featuring training in voice, music theory, and performance for boys age 7 to 14. Beginning with the Training Choir, boys can progress to Cadet, Town and Tour choirs, and upon graduation, participate in the Master’s Choir. Currently, there are approximately 250 young boys and men participating, making it one of the largest and most active boychoirs in the United States.
In 2003 they began a Neighborhood Training Choir Program. This expansion made the Phoenix Boys Choir available to all boys, regardless of where they live or their families’ financial situation.

One of their most prestigious awards was received in the summer of 2007 during the European concert tour in July. The choir participated in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival at the renowned Musikverein in Vienna in which the Phoenix Boys Choir won first place.
Last year, the choirs appeared in more than 100 performances in Arizona and across in the Midwest United States in front of approximately 50,000 people, impacted 5,400 youth and collaborated with 164 schools.

And this post comes from Me (a name I call myself).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Here is a mystery choir that I can’t seem to find out enough about. It’s the Sangerknaben Vom Wienerwald or the Boys Choir of the Vienna Woods, which sometimes is confused with the Vienna Boys Choir.

First, what I don’t know about this choir is this: Are they still around? Why don’t they have a better web site? Have they gone co-ed? Do they still record and how can we get new CD’s? Their web site seems to be down and I haven't found any CD's newer than 1999.

I keep hoping that we will hire someone from Germany at our office so I can get them to translate for me. Their German web site may have lots of information about them, I don't know, but the parts that are in English are not very helpful.

I found a CD from them on Amazon titled Romantic Vienna and it is another one of those digitally remastered recordings from Essential Media Group that is made from an old vinyl LP record. They never give the date of the original recording nor do they give us any liner notes. I went back to the web and searched again and found three other versions of this same recording with different covers and titles but with the same song listings.

The sound quality is not, of course, like modern recordings. It’s flat but at least they took out any static and background hiss. The quality of the singing, on the other hand, is very good and after awhile I stopped noticing the lack of depth. These boys sound very young and very well trained. If you like Strauss Waltzes, and who doesn’t, I think you’ll find yourself smiling at this CD. There are 19 songs starting with the 1001 Night Waltz and ending with the Zappert Polka. I love Vienna, City of My Dreams.
On all of the songs they are backed up by a great orchestra.

Now, what I do know about Sangerknaben Vom Wienerwald is this: They start training at age 6 or 7 at the choir school at the Mission House of Saint Gabriel, founded in 1921.

The boys sing church music at the high holidays in St. Gabriel and also provide 50 concert performances during the school year. The highlight of the year is the 3-5-week concert tour in the summer months.