Sunday, March 29, 2009

Polski Slowiki

One of the main things that I had wanted from this site was to find out about choirs that I knew nothing about and that has worked very nicely thanks to the good people who have written. Thanks David, Kelsie and everyone. You make this little effort fun for me. I don't know if anyone noticed but since I put the counter on the site 3 weeks ago I've had almost 600 hits. That just tells me that a lot of people like boy choir music.

I received two CD’s from the Festival site last week that I wouldn’t have known about without a very good tip.
Polski Slowiki has moved on now but some of their CD’s are still available out there. It‘s interesting that they were the first artists in Poland to record a CD back in 1984.

I got the one titled Dennis as well as The Best of the Polish Nightingales and I’ve listened to them both a lot this week.
14-year-old Dennis (Dionizy Placzkowski) has an amazing voice that is surprisingly powerful and operatic. He has a skill and talent that would be impressive in an adult soprano but to hear these sounds, this pulsating vibrato, coming from a young boy is just delightful.
Some of my favorite pieces are the wonderful rendition of Ave Maria, a stirring anthem-like song called The Holy City and a powerful Dies Irae.

Dennis doesn’t carry the show alone. The other boys' voices and the men combine for some really breathtaking music. I actually find myself grinning when I play these CD’s.

A bonus feature to this group is the costuming. They are shown wearing knickers and hose, red waistcoats (or as Dickens calls them: weskits) and large lacy cravats. It’s a great look. These must have been wonderful concerts to see live.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Years ago I read an interview with Steve Martin who told about an incident that happened when he was on tour. A fan broke into his hotel room by climbing onto the balcony from the floor above and was waiting there when Steve returned. Security was about to toss him out but Steve asked them to wait. He then asked the man why he would risk his life like that. What was so important that he had to say? All the fan had to say was, “Uh, I saw you on TV.”

A friend of mine in Atlanta was the college roommate of someone who went on to become the leader of a very famous rock band. That roommate would come to town a couple of times each year and they would get together for dinner so my friend asked me to join them one evening. I was naturally excited but it turned out that after saying, “I like your music” to the celeb I really had nothing else to contribute to the conversation. His life in New York was so different from mine that we were both bored with each other.

I mention these things because I still find myself fascinated by certain people’s lives, especially singers, and I fantasize about meeting them but then I laugh because I’m sure I wouldn’t have anything worthwhile to say to them.

Last year, as I stood in line to get autographs from the Libera boys after the concert, I kept racking my brain for something witty and memorable to say. Something that would make them smile and think of me as a friend but all I could do was smile stupidly and say, “Thanks, Sam, Thanks Callum, Thanks Josh…”
A little later Josh must have felt me staring at him because he looked up at me. I instantly grinned and held my hand to my face, pinkie and thumb extended to mime a phone, and I mouthed, “Josh, call me”.

At least that earned me a chuckle.

That all being said, there are still two people I would dearly love to have dinner with; Tom Cully and James Rainbird. I have a lot to say to both of them so, if you should happen to read this, Tom, James… call me.

Today’s recommendation is The Boys Air Choir album Songs of Prayer

The folding insert that came in the CD that I bought has lots of information about this album but, sadly, it’s written in Japanese so I have no clue what it says. Of course, it doesn’t matter once you hear the music.

Here is the prettiest version of There Is No Rose that I have ever heard and O Come, O Come Emmanuel is hauntingly beautiful. I love Angels From The Realms of Glory.

This is another one of those perfect albums where every song is a gem.

The boys this time are Tristan Hambleton, Dominic Collingwood, Gwilym Bowen, Benedict Copping, Tom Robinson-Woledge, Dominic Kraemer, Andrew Johnson, William Bulteel, Henry Neill, Thomas Crow and Oliver Pash.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
Manducat Dominum.
Pauper, servus et humilis

The angelic bread
becomes the bread of men;
The heavenly bread
ends all prefigurations:
What wonder!
a poor and humble servant
consumes the Lord

Songs like Panis Angelicus and Pie Jesu are a good way to learn a little Latin. It’s much more fun than a dry textbook and because Latin is the root of the Romance (Rome) languages like French, Italian and Spanish, you can also get a little education in those tongues as well.

Bread (panis) in French is Pain, in Spanish is Pan and in Italian is pane.
Angelicus is not hard to figure out in any language.

My musical suggestion this time is...

Libera, Angel Voices

If you only buy one Libera CD I thnk it should be Libera, Angel Voices.
The Saint Philips Boy’s Choir recorded three albums, Angel Voices, Angel Voices 2 and Angel Voices 3 so it can be a little confusing if you’re just exploring Libera‘s music, but this is the CD with the white cover that has Liam, Josh, Tom, Michael and Ed on the front. It is also the CD that made me into a Libera fan.
The refrain in the song Far Away always gives me goose bumps and I still smile every time they really go high on the song Sanctus.
Every song on here is excellent and I just don’t seem to get tired of hearing them.

No one else sounds like Libera. They are so unique and original that I’ve never heard anyone describe them accurately so I’m not even going to try, but if anyone else wants to take a stab at it, please feel free to tell us.
The thing that puzzles me most about Libera is why they are not more well known.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Professor Dumbledore, headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, said, “Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here.”

American Songfest, the American Boychoir

Who better to sing the music of twentieth century America than the American Boychoir? They have these smooth harmonies that are unique and wonderful.
This is a really fun CD that samples some of the great American composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives, and George Gershwin.

I have to smile every time I hear young Francois Suhr singing Summertime from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. His strong piping voice carries well on a song that is usually sung by a woman.

I’ve heard several choirs sing that haunting song Sure On This Shining Night, the James Agee poem set to music by Samuel Barber, but I think this is my favorite.

There is a sweet rendition of Copeland’s Long Time Ago and Michael Tippett’s Steal Away.

This is a must-have CD and also, a friend has been telling me about another ABC album called
"Harmony - American Songs of Faith" (2007) by The American Boychoir and St. Olaf Choir.

He says, " I like it because it takes me back to my childhood with it's "Ole Time Religion" songs."

Track list:
01 - Kumbaya (American Boychoir & Alumni Chorus)
02 - This Little Light of Mine (American Boychoir)
03 - Jesus Loves Me (American Boychoir & St. Olaf)
04 - Here I Am, Lord (American Boychoir)
05 - Precious Lord, Take My Hand (American Boychoir)
06 - Walk in the Light (American Boychoir & St. Olaf)
07 - Give Me Jesus (American Boychoir)
08 - How Can I Keep from Singing (St. Olaf)
09 - Little Innocent Lamb (American Boychoir)
10 - The Gift of Love (American Boychoir)
11 - Softly and Tenderly (American Boychoir Alumni Chorus)
12 - Earth and All Stars (St. Olaf)
13 - Ose Shalom (American Boychoir)
14 - Shall We Gather at the River (American Boychoir & St. Olaf)
15 - Happy Land (American Boychoir Alumni Chorus)
16 - How Can I Keep from Singing (American Boychoir)
17 - Abide With Me (American Boychoir & Alumni Chorus)
18 - America the Beautiful (American Boychoir)
19 - Amazing Grace (St. Olaf)
20 - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (American Boychoir & Alumni Chorus)

That is one I don't have yet but I want it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

If anyone has a favorite album that they would like to talk about please feel free. Email me and I will post it. I've got several that I love.


Sometimes there is a perfect pairing between a composer and a performer and that is the case with Strauss (Johann and Joseph) and the Vienna Boy’s Choir. Maybe it is because they are all sons of Austria and share some special Alpine magic.

The WSK CD titled Edelweiss is both beautiful and fun with Strauss waltzes and polkas. Everyone knows the Blue Danube waltz; it turns out that I knew most of the other songs also but I didn’t know what they were called. I’ve heard a lot of them on television or in films so it’s good to learn their names. The waltzes are great but I love the polkas, too. I don’t believe that anyone can listen to the Pizzicato-Polka with tapping their foot.

Along with the Strauss’s there is also a little Mozart, a couple of other songs plus two songs from the film The Sound of Music: Do-Re-Mi and the title song Edelweiss. This is one of my favorite CD’s

There is a companion CD to this one, Ave Maria, that is more serious. Interestingly, it has songs by Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Bruckner, the four composers that WSK’s four touring choirs are named after.
There are two versions of Ave Maria, the Schubert and the one by Bruckner, on this CD. I like the Schubert one best. The soloist is great. It’s too bad they don’t tell who it is singing.

There is also a really sweet song from the opera Hansel and Gretel titled Abendsenen. This one is in German but Libera does a version of it (Prayer) in English.

One of my absolute favorite songs is Pueri Concinite and the soloist on this one amazes me when he hits those really high notes.

Anyway, these are sold together and I recommend them both.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mea Culpa

I have a confession to make. I don’t really know everything, I just like to sound as if I do. I have been told that I voice my opinions so strongly that people think I know what I’m talking about, but I usually don’t.
When I say that this choir or that choir is the best what I really mean is that I like them best of the ones I have heard, but I have by no means heard them all. I’m no expert on the subject, just a passionate amateur.

I keep finding music that is new to me and a lot of it is so great that I have to revise my opinions about who is best. Really, though, it isn’t accurate to say that any one group or artist is better than another. All of them are different, and all of them are good. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Sometimes searching the internet for information is like panning for gold and now and then you find a nugget. I was happy to come across a European site called Festival.

This is the link. Here are boy choirs from across Europe that I have never heard of but their recordings are available in the Festival shop. Each CD has the tracks listed and even has samples. Prices are listed in Euros and the exchange rate right now is good if you live in the U.S. as ten Euros converts to about seven dollars and fifty cents. I ordered two Polski Slowiki CD’s, Dennis and The Best of… to start with.

This year I believe I will concentrate on learning more about these choirs whose music isn’t available from the main music sites.
Some of those groups are Luebecker Knabenkantorei, Les Moineaux Du Val De Marne, Boni Pueri, The Boy’s Choir Glink School, Kapella Khloptchikau, Nidarosdomens Guttekor (I’m not making these names up), Sweschnikor Boy’s Choir of Moscow, the Riga Dome Boy’s Choir and more.
I will post reviews about each new choir I find and, as always, I welcome any comments about these or other groups or soloists.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I wish I could have been a choirboy. Two things stood in my way, a complete lack of talent and I wasn’t Catholic. Still, I think it must feel good to wear the cassock and surplice. It looks comfortable and it’s a beautiful costume, especially with the ruffled collar. I don’t know if the color of the cassock has any meaning but I’ve seen both red and black ones.

I was reading ‘The English Chorister, a History’ by Alan Mould, who used to be head-master of Saint John’s College choir school, and I came across a line that made me laugh.
He wrote,” Evidently a particular problem of the late fifteenth century, ‘our present wanton age’, was a boyish urge to wear outlandish clothes, even in quire: ‘pointed slippers, long hose, strait doublets and short cassocks barely covering the buttocks‘.”
So a teenager’s need for unconventional clothing is not just a modern trait. I won’t say what I was wearing in my teens but I burned the pictures.

There are other choir costumes today besides the traditional cassock and surplice. Libera is known for floor length white monk’s robes with hoods. Their robes are very full and take quite a bit of fabric to make so they look substantial and strong. It’s a look that is both historic and spiritual.

Monk’s robes are also worn by Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois.
I don’t know the history of their costumes but they have wooden crosses dangling like pendants from their necks.

The most famous uniforms belong to the Vienna Boys Choir, black or white sailor suits. I’m told that the dark ones are deep blue but they look black to me and these are worn for formal concerts and important events.

Les Choristes (Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint Marc) wear loose, baggy trousers that come to just below the knee, long white sox, a light blue pin-striped shirt and a sleeveless sweater that is sort of a slate color. It looks very French.

As I look at boy choirs from around the world I am finding that there is a huge variety of costumes, more than I realized. There are all sorts of robes and suits in a wide range of colors. I think it makes the whole world of boy choirs much more fun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am having trouble finding some of the older CD's like Polski Slowiki's Dennis. If anyone has a copy to sell, or if you just want to say hi, email me at

English Cathedrals

There are so many church choirs in England that I am just scratching the surface in my searches. When I win the lottery (and I can’t believe it’s taking so long) I will hie myself to England and visit every one of them.

The thing is, though, that I really cannot tell all that much difference between many of them. Westminster, Glouster, Winchester, Saint Paul’s all sound pretty much the same to me. Of course, they are all wonderful but… similar. I’m sure that real audiophiles would not have any problem distinguishing one from another but I just don’t have the experience yet.
That doesn’t stop me from getting their CD’s, though, and I have music from all of them and more.

Some of my favorites are The Choir of New College and their CD Agnus Dei: Music of Inner Harmony

Winchester Cathedral’s choir’s album titled Allegri Miserere and Other Choral Favorites which features an achingly pretty solo by Michael Liley, This Is The Record of John

Saint Paul’s Anthems, Magnificats, Hymns and a Psalm is a beautiful CD

I have Favorite Hymns from The choir of the Abbey School who actually do have a recognizable style which I like

It makes me happy to know that thousands of boys out there love choral singing and will keep the art and tradition alive for a long, long time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Silk Road

The newest CD from the Vienna Boy’s Choir is called Silk Road. I had my doubts about it at first because it is so different from the other music that I associate with them. I believe this is what used to be referred to as World music.

With this album they are showing us what they can really do and it’s impressive. I find something new to like about it every time I play it.
I picked up a copy at their concert last fall when they toured the US and it has music they have collected from around the world. From Scandinavia to Asia to New Zealand they picked Polkas, folk songs, spiritual music and more.
At the end there is a very powerful version of Mozart’s Requiem for which I always turn up the volume and say to heck with the neighbors.

This autumn the DVD of the motion picture, Silk Road, will be released. The CD is music from that film so we will get to see the boys in some of the exotic locations from their tours. They even appear with those terracotta warriors which were unearthed in China. Something to look forward to.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I know that Polski Slowiki is no longer together but I can't find any of their CD's. None of the Amazon sites carry them. If anyone knows where I can get my hands on some I would appreciate the information.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In looking at my music collection I realized that everything I have, with a few exceptions, is English. I have CD’s from some of the major cathedral choirs and several solo artists, but I’m lacking in music from other countries. There are great choirs in Germany and France and surely there are plenty in Spain and Italy (BCSD lists a great many),but the problem for me is understanding what I am buying. I don’t read German at all and my other language skills are regrettably weak so I don’t know what the CD descriptions say and I’m unsure about ordering something priced in foreign currency. It would be easy to miscalculate and pay too much, plus I’m uncomfortable about using my credit card in so many different locations.

There is a new web site that will be opening soon that will help with those problems by offering boy choir music from around the world; sort of one-stop shopping. I look forward to doing some business with as soon as they get up and running. There is a link to the site on this blog.

I do recommend one particular CD that gives great samples of boy's choir music. That one is...

Les Plus Belles Chorales D’Enfants

This is a double CD that I listen to a lot. It features several different choirs like Libera, King’s College, WSK, The American Boychoir, Trinity boys choir and more. A great introduction to the genre, it's one of the first CD's I bought and I've been really happy with it.
The type of songs vary with WSK doing some pop numbers like All You Need Is Love and Eternal Flame.
It starts with the Choir of Gamins from the opera Carmen, done by the boys choir of Toulouse. There is also music by Britten, Faure, Rorem and others including Libera’s Voca Me. I especially like one opulent number titled O Virgo Splendens.
There is more than one CD out there with this same name but the one has a picture of four boys, in profile, on the cover.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I feel that boy’s choirs are more pleasing than any other type of choir so the top five boy choirs are also the top five choirs in the world.

Those five choirs that are the best of the best are:

1. The Vienna Boy’s Choir

2. Libera

3. The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

4. The American Boychoir

5. The Boys Air Choir

Each of these choirs has a uniquely beautiful sound that helps them stand apart and above the others. If I’m wrong, tell me. Leave a comment and let us know who you like best.

Of course, I like a lot of boy's choirs and another one that I recommend is...

Les Petits Chanteurs A La Croix De Bois

The little singers of the wooden cross (which they wear around their necks) is how their name translates but usually they are called the little singers of Paris. Founded in 1906 this choir has traveled extensively around the world with enthusiastic receptions everywhere. They went through some very rough years during WWII while they carried on a peace mission, bringing music to French prisoners of the German occupiers. They survived and grew and today they have beaucoup recordings.

I have a CD titled Les Plus Belles Chansons, a double album that is pretty novel.
It’s in a different style from the other music I have but it’s really fun.
Probably my favorite song is Le Duo De Chats by Rossini which consists of two boys singing ‘meow’ back and forth to each other… in a melodic way, of course. It’s a song to make you smile.

“Often imitated, rarely equaled, they are a part of the national heritage” is one descriptive quote that I found. It was also said that they have a ‘learned simplicity’. I will definitely be getting more of their work.