Friday, February 27, 2009

The Choirboys

One of the more well known and popular groups is/was the Choirboys. This is from BCSD: “The Choirboys, CJ Porter-Thaw, Patrick Aspbury, and Ben Inman are described as a mini version of the Three Tenors. The group was formed after talent scouts visited 50 cathedrals and churches across the UK. Porter-Thaw and Aspbury were both members of the choir at the King's School in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Inman was singing in the choir at state-run Minster School in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. The trio is co-managed by former treble Aled Jones.”

Their self-titled album sold 100,000 copies in the first week, making it the fastest selling classical debut album ever in the UK. That was in 2005.

In 2007, William Dutton, Bill Goss, and Andrew Swait were selected to replace Ben, Patrick and CJ. They recorded an excellent Christmas CD titled The Carols Album.
The manager of Universal Classics said that they auditioned hundreds of boys for this group and these were the three best singers in England.
I would like to have heard more CD’s from these three, but there seems to be only the one album. It’s fascinating the way their voices blend and support each other so beautifully.

I like both sets of boys. Ben, Patrick and CJ are very listenable and I like the selection of songs on their CD. It’s just my opinion, and I’m sure many will disagree, but I think William, Bill and Andrew are better singers. I’m a fan of both, though.


Whatever happened to the Trebby awards? The site is still up but it stops at 2006. It's really too bad they are no longer supporting it because it is an important site for researching boy's music. There are long lists of choirs and soloists for the years 2003 thru 2006 and there are samples for each one. The samples are an entire song so you can really tell what a group or singer is like. I've made a list of the ones I like best and I'll use it to buy CD's this year. There is a lot of music on this site and some unbelievable treble voices. Check it out at

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I had an idea today. I believe that we should rename the days of the week in order to pay tribute to the great guys of Libera. My thoughts were that Sunday should become Libera-day, Monday would become Madine-day, Tuesday Tom-day, Wednesday Bens-day, Thursday Tiarnan-day, Friday Liam-day and of course finally Edward Day.
I want to see a grassroots movement to change all our calendars.

Speaking of Libera, there was also the...

Saint Philips Boy’s Choir

It’s hard to find out much about this choir except for the information on the CD liners and a bit in BCSD. If anyone knows anything about them I would love to learn more.

Before there was Libera there was the Saint Philip’s Boys Choir. They recorded three CD’s that should be part of any Libera fan’s collection. They chose very pretty songs like Bright Eyes, I Vow to Thee My Country and Sailing. The boys’ voices have a sweetly innocent quality.

Daren Geraghty and Oliver Putland sang most of the solos on Angel Voices 1, Daren, Liam O’Kane and Chris Baron were soloists on Angel Voices 2 and Liam and Steve Geraghty sang on Angel Voices 3 which is Christmas music.

Of course, they are from south London, ages 7 to 14 and often appeared on British television shows. They had 2 hit singles and appeared with some major singing stars. I’m unclear whether they were going by the name Angel Voices or The St. Philip’s boy’s choir but I listen to these CD’s a lot.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anthony Way

In 1996 the BBC created and aired a mini-series called The Choir. It was based on a book by Joanna Trollope ( I wonder if she came from a long line of trollopes?) and gave us the debut of Anthony Way as Henry Ashworth, a young chorister.

There is a great story in the CD’s liner notes. It says, ”Whoever we chose (for the role) had to sing well enough to convince us he really could make a recording capable of becoming a commercial hit. We had to believe. He also had to act like a veteran. Harder still, he could only be ten or eleven years old… we were told the part is an impossibility. No such boy could exist.”

They auditioned child actors who could sing but struck out so they looked for a singer who could act. After three hundred auditions they met Anthony Way. He was eleven and a junior choir member at St. Paul’s. They were still worried that he might not be able to pull it off, but it goes on to say, “Never have fears been so triumphantly blown away.”

The show has a magnificent theme song and its best-selling soundtrack made Anthony into a very popular boy with lots of requests for television appearances. Everyone loved him.
His second CD was titled The Choirboy and after that was The Choirboy’s Christmas. I love both of them. He has a couple of others but I dont' own them yet.

There are certain songs such as Pie Jesu and Panis Angelicus that have been recorded so many times they have become standards (I have eight versions of Miserere) so it’s nice to find songs that I’ve never heard. The Choirboy chose songs like The Green Hills of England and One Small Voice and A Grateful Heart.

On the DVD I enjoy watching the boys’ practice sessions and performances in the church with the boys of the Gloucester Cathedral Choir.
There is one scene when another chorister says, “Sing B flat. Go on. Sing B double-flat. There I told stupid Barrett you could.” Both times Ashworth obliges and that always amazes me. I can’t tell a baritone from a tenor so I have no idea how anyone can just sing out a particular note. It’s magic.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Les Choristes, Jean-Baptist Maunier

There is a really good movie that I like called “Les Choristes”, a French film about a school for troubled boys, a very unhappy place until a new teacher arrives and forms the boys into a choir.
It was directed by Christophe Barratier and introduces us to Jean-Baptiste Maunier, a boy with a suspiciously angelic face and a great voice.

The soundtrack was recorded by Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint Marc and they later made a concert appearance as Les Choristes which led to a concert CD and a DVD. This group is not a boy’s choir but a mixed choir with several talented girls. The main attraction though is Jean-Baptiste Maunier. It’s a delight to watch him sing, especially when he goes for the high notes, but he doesn’t do all of the solos. Emmanuel Lize earns a big share of the applause as well as a couple of the girls who also sang solos.

They perform some great songs like Open Thou Mine Eyes, Pueri Concinite and Caresse Sur L’Ocean. Most of the songs, unsurprisingly, are in French so I don’t know what they are saying but it doesn’t matter. They are a treat. Most of the French songs I have never heard before and that‘s always nice. Also, when they sing in English they have the most charming accents.

It seemed odd to me that, on stage, their pants legs stop at mid-calf. I guess it's a French style.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The American Boychoir

In the lists of all of the great boy choirs from around the world America is well represented by the American Boychoir. They have a special, singular style of singing both classical and church music that is easily recognizable.
Where they really excel is with American music like that of Leonard Bernstein , Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and others.

I laugh when I hear them sing ‘I Bought Me a Cat’ and old hymns like ‘Softly And Tenderly’ bring back memories of the small country church that I attended as a boy. I love every song of theirs that I have heard no matter what type of music it is. Obviously, they are one of my very favorite choirs and I am really excited about their spring tour. I finally get to see them sing.

The ABC draws boys from all across America to attend the American Boychoir School for both a musical and academic education. The school is the only non-sectarian boy’s choir school in the country.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Founded more than 550 years ago these boys still give me goose bumps. On their web site they say:
“Internationally recognized as the pre-eminent representative of the great British church music tradition, the Choir owes its existence to King Henry VI who envisaged the daily singing of services in his magnificent chapel. This remains the Choir's raison d'ĂȘtre, and is an important part of the lives of its sixteen choristers, who are educated on generous scholarships at King's College School, and the fourteen choral scholars and two organ scholars, who study a variety of subjects in the College itself. Today's Choir derives its worldwide fame and reputation from the annual broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is heard on radio by millions all over the world. The Choir also performs in London, appearing regularly in all the major halls.”

If I ever make it to England I really hope to see the King’s College choir perform (right after I go to Croyden to see the Saint Philip's choir). I have a couple of DVD’s that I enjoy but seeing them live would be amazing. They sing some very complicated pieces and they make it look easy.
I also have a few of their CD’s and I’m looking forward to collecting more.

My favorite CD is Heavenly Voices. This is what I think traditional cathedral music sounds like. I close my eyes and feel as if I’ve gone back in time a century or two.
The deep bass notes from that pipe organ go beyond bass and into almost the sub-sonic range. Living in the country I don’t have a problem with turning up the volume on my sound system and letting the sub-woofer rattle the windows.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Vienna Boys Choir
Wiener Sangerknaben has celebrated their 500th anniversary. They are probably the most famous choir in the world and certainly the most famous boys choir. I have twelve of their CD’s which I listen to a lot so needless to say that I am a big fan. What a distinctive sound. They sing mostly classical and church music, but also folk and pop music and recently they did an album called Silk Road, a collection of songs in Arabic, Chinese, Tajik, Urdu and more.

There are four touring groups in WSK. They are Schubertchor, Haydnchor, Mozartchor and Brucknerchor. As many as three groups tour at any one time but one is always in residence and school at their home in their beautifully restored Palais Augarten.

I saw the Haydnchor on their U.S. tour last fall and I smiled during the entire concert. There were two dozen boys in their trademark sailor suits lined up in two rows and singing mostly a cappella but sometimes accompanied by a piano. The boys were obviously having fun and I could tell they sometimes were holding back laughter. I was sitting a few rows back from the stage.

Schubertchor just returned from Korea where they were very well received. There are some blog postings on their homepage that are really funny.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Once you start looking for boy choir music you will quickly come across Libera. The are choirboys from St. Philips church in south London and their director, Robert Prizeman (a genius), has created a unique and amazing sound with them. It's very magical.

It’s a funny thing about Libera fans, we don’t just like them, we love Libera. Their fan club is growing rapidly as more people hear them and the fans are mostly adults, very serious adults. I've heard it referred to as being caught in the Libera web.
The sound is sort of a combination of New Age, Catholic, classical, pop and more. They are a charismatic group of boys. Much of their songs contain Latin lyrics and they perform wearing white monk’s robes.

It is easy to find videos of them on the web. They have been together for a long time and when you watch the videos you get to see them grow up. If you become a Libera fan you really should get their Leiden concert DVD. It has great interviews on it. The boys all are really charming, especially Tom Cully, Josh Madine and Mini-Ben.

I went to Pittsburgh to see them last April and before the show I talked to several other people waiting in the lobby. It was amazing how many had come a long way for that show. Some people traveled hundreds of miles. It was a great show and over way too soon.

I stood in line for autographs after the show along with hundreds of other fans. It was the first time ever that I wanted anyone's signature, although I mainly wanted to say hello to them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I cannot believe that it is 2009 and I've never blogged before. I suppose I've never had anything important to say before, but now I want to try. This will be an experiment to see if I get enough input to make it worth continuing.

I am really lucky in a lot of ways but my best luck recently was finding out about boy choirs. I was so bored with music that I had not bought a CD in years. I had plenty of Irish music, World music, Opera, Broadway show tunes and classical music as well as old classics like Pink Floyd but I kept hoping for something new; something that would bring back the excitement that I used to feel for music. Then I heard a boys choir in a movie and had I to hear more. A little exploration led me to artists such as the Vienna boys choir, Libera, James Rainbird and lots of others. loves me. I bought over fifty CD’s last year and I’m still trying to expand my collection. Unfortunately there is a finite number of boy choirs and even fewer that record their work and I worry that there may come a time when I can’t find anything else new so that’s the reason for this blog.

I hope that others will post their thoughts, likes and recommendations of this music so I can expand my knowledge of boy choirs as well as my collection. I need the advice of knowledgeable and experienced people and hopefully I will also hear from other new enthusiasts like me.

The place where I live is perfectly nice, but this area is not especially known for sophistication or culture. The prevailing attitude here is that ‘if it ain’t country, it ain’t music‘.
I tried to introduce a few people here to the world of boy choirs, but all I got was blank stares so I gave up.

There is a great deal to know about this sort of music and it would probably be helpful to be brought up Catholic, but I wasn't so I find myself constantly looking up song lyrics, especially one in Latin, and their meanings. How is it I have missed out on so much beauty for so long. Songs like Miserere, Pueri Concinite and Panis Angelicus elicit deep sighs of pleasure from me, but there is also a lot of classical and pop songs out there that I love. Classical music never sounded so good to me as it does when sung by boy's voices.

I suppose I will start by describing some of the music that I already have, beginning with the song that led me into this genre in the first place. I’ll try to add a new post every few days.

James Rainbird
It’s probably a boring story, but one day I watched Stephen Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” which I had not seen in years. The movie opens with a choir of young boys singing a Welsh lullaby called “Suo Gan”, a really great song that I fell in love with immediately.
I looked into it and found that the soloist was 12-year-old James Rainbird, a British lad. He only had one album in his career and it was appropriately titled “The Sublime Treble Voice of James Rainbird”. The album was recorded on cassette tape and later transferred to a cd so the sound quality could be a lot better but his voice still shines despite the poor recording.

I’m not a musical person and I don’t have the vocabulary to describe musical things properly or accurately so I have to use adjectives like beautiful, warm, rich, sweet… and so forth when I talk about the music I like.
James Rainbird, still, to me is the greatest boy treble that I have ever heard. He has a huge range and he can hit the high notes with ease, without any wispiness or strain, and he does it loudly and clearly. Also there is a quality to his voice that is pure boy. There is no mistaking it for a girl’s voice.
I wish he could have done more recordings but besides Suo Gan he only has two others that I know of. He played Amahl in Amahl and the Night Visitors, the Christmas opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti. The liner notes quote Menotti as saying “This recording I like very much; the boy has wonderful diction. And it mirrors my concept of Amahl.” He wasn’t pleased with earlier efforts.
James Rainbird tops the list of the people I would most like to meet.