Thursday, October 29, 2009

I really wanted to write a post for Halloween that has to do with choir boys and spooky stuff, like un-holy ghosts. I went all over the net trying to find ghost stories about choirboys, but I didn’t find much. It looks like choirboys lead exemplary lives and don’t leave behind much unfinished business.

I encountered a lot of ‘dead ends’, like it turns out that the Dead Boys Choir is a hardcore metal group. Boring.
Here are a few things that I did find. This post is a little longer than I usually like. I hope you don’t mind.

In Edmonton, Alberta at Concordia College - On certain nights you can hear a choir sing in the boy’s dorm areas. Doors slam even though no one is around. A female teacher has also been seen wandering the halls.

At the St. James' Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand, built in 1912, there have been numerous reports of several ghosts in the theatre. … A boy's choir is said to haunt the theatre also. The choir played their last song at the St. James during the Second World War before beginning a tour. The ship they sailed on was never seen again and patrons and workers alike often hear their music in the seating area. The excellent Ghost Hunt group of New Zealand held a night investigation here which resulted in some incredible paranormal evidence... This has to be one of the most haunted theatres in the world.

This is from a church in England. “In December 1920 a choirmaster along with two choirboys had gone into the church to rehearse at 6 pm one evening a few days before Christmas. They had been singing for around twenty minutes when they noticed an old lady standing about 8 feet away from them. So real did she appear that one of the boys walked over and placed a chair for her to sit on, the woman nodded her thanks and sat down. She was dressed… in old-fashioned clothing. Her hair was grey…
Their strange visitor mystified the choirmaster. He had most certainly locked the door when they had entered. He had heard no footsteps on the stone floor and, furthermore, the heavy, creaking double doors that led from the main body of the church had been silent since he and the choristers had passed through them.
Then suddenly, just as the practice concluded, the mysterious visitor vanished without trace. They searched the church but could find no trace whatsoever of the woman. Furthermore, when they went to leave the building, the door was still locked.”

I’m sure I’m not supposed to just lift other people’s photos from the web so I’m just including the link to a site that shows a possible choirboy’s ghost appearing on a television. If you ask me though, it’s the little girl in the picture that’s scary. Check it out.
Finally, A neighbor of mine, an older man, once told me about something scary that happened to him back in the 1930's. His family lived in a very rural area and they used to walk to church. One evening he and his brother and their mother were coming home from choir practice. They knew it would be dark, as usual, when they finished so they always brought a lantern.
They had to walk more than a mile to get home, but this time there had been a storm and the bridge was washed out on the road they usually used so they were taking the path through the woods. This path went past the old logging camp and was not used much since the camp had closed.
He and his brother sang some songs as they walked, but when they stopped singing the boys could hear footsteps behind them.
Their mother told them it was nothing, just the wind or something, but a few minutes later they heard it again. Their mother shined the lantern behind them and said again that there was nothing there.
Finally, they were nearing their house when the footsteps became louder, as if they were closer. They were scared so their mother held the lantern up and looked back again.
She told them she didn't see anything but they should hurry and get to the house because their father would be worrying about them. They walked really fast and were relieved to get inside and lock the door. The boys told their father what they had heard but their mother said it was their imaginations. Still, she seemed to be nervous and distracted.
Later that night, when the boys were in bed, he could hear his mother telling his father about it. In a frightened and trembling voice she told how she held the lantern up and didn't see anything until the last time. "That time I saw it, Henry. It was a man standing right there and, oh God Henry, he didn't have a head!"

And finally, I can’t prove it, but I’ve been told that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

As I mentioned last time, I have another Vienna Boys Choir DVD that I really like a lot. It is titled A Mozart Celebration. This DVD is bigger than the previous one in every way. It’s longer with a larger orchestra and more singers, and it’s also filmed inside a huge cathedral, the Domkirche St. Stephen in Vienna. The opening shot is of the outside of the cathedral and it’s massive and really impressive.
The inside is breathtaking with every surface textured and lavishly ornate. There are a lot of large paintings that are very beautiful, especially the one behind the altar, and there are lots of chandeliers and sculptures. Unfortunately the camera seems to spend more time panning around the interior than focusing on the boys.

2006 must have been a good year at the Palais Augarten because the boys were outstanding. They sang Ave Verum Corpus again and my favorite Mozart Mass, the “Coronation Mass” in C major (I can’t believe I actually have a favorite Mozart Mass). The two boy soloists were really sweet and fun to watch.

There is something I have yet to figure out and that is the purpose of the numbers after the names of the compositions. For example, here they have two versions of the same tune, Church Sonata in C Major, K. 278 and Church Sonata in C Major, K. 317. Could they not think of another name?

This time the men were from the Chorus Viennensis and the music was by the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien.

I know I shouldn’t say this because it probably makes me look shallow, but there is one thing about this DVD that I don’t care for very much. They have a soprano, Sandrine Piau, who somehow annoys me. She looks quite elegant and has a good voice, but I just wish she would hold still. Instead, she constantly sways left and right while bobbing her head back and forth and making these odd facial contortions.

I think that all singers should emulate Josh Madine and always sing with a big smile on their face (unless they are singing something like I Pagliacci, of course). Anyway, my solution is to simply close my eyes when she’s on and that makes it much better.

Friday, October 23, 2009

There is something special about the Vienna Boys Choir. They have a consistently beautiful sound and a long, interesting history.
I’ve been alerted to the rumors that they may start accepting girls into the choir ; I almost fainted at the thought. The WSK management are saying that it isn’t true and I hope they aren’t stonewalling us.

How hard could it possibly be to find boy singers? What boy wouldn’t love to go live in that palace in Vienna, tour the world with a bunch of friends, meet adoring crowds everywhere and learn a craft that will almost guarantee them a career? I certainly would.

I have two DVD’s from the Vienna Boys Choir that I like to watch. They are both dedicated to Mozart. The first, titled “Waisenhaus Mass” and Other Choral Works, has two performances that were recorded for television in 1988 and 1990. The first part, the Waisenhaus Mass, was performed at the Hofburg Chapel in Vienna.

This Mass was written when Mozart was 12 for the consecration of a new orphanage in Vienna and the Empress Theresia was in the audience.
A newspaper at the time said, “all of the music sung by the orphanage choir in the High Mass was written by Wolfgang Mozart, the twelve-year-old boy famous for his exceptional talent…; it was newly composed for the occasion, and directed by the composer himself to the applause and admiration of all present…”

It goes without saying that the Vienna boys are in excellent form, looking perfectly wholesome and angelic in their white uniforms.

The chapel itself is also very pretty with pale stone columns and walls, deep red lower walls and lots of statues perched high on the columns. There is a nice size orchestra to support the boys and a talented group of men from the Herrenchor Der Wiener Staatsoper to help out.

The Mass is labeled a Missa Solemnis in C minor and has the usual parts, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc. It’s Mozart so of course it’s good.

I like the second part, Other Choral Works, better mainly because I recognized more of the music, like Sub Tuum Praesidium and Ave Verum Corpus.
It’s interesting that Mozart composed Ave Verum Corpus, perhaps his most popular sacred composition, in Baden bei Wien for the choir director there. There are two excellent young soloists in this production.
This was filmed in the parish church of St. Stephen in Baden bei Wien, where it was written. The church, again, is very handsome with lots of gold touches everywhere. The orchestra is all strings and the men’s chorus is from the Wiener Hofmusikkapelle.

Uwe Christian Harrer conducts both performances.

This post grew longer than I expected so I will write about the other DVD in a couple of days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Earlier this year BCSD, one of my favorite sites, featured a CD by Dennis Chmelensky which was simply titled Dennis. I finally got around to getting it and it’s pretty good.

Dennis has one of those special voices that reminds me a bit of Diozny Placzkowski. It’s very smooth, sort of operatic, and he can easily reach the high notes without straining.

On this CD, his first, he has some of the standards like Schubert’s Ave Maria, Pie Jesu, and Abendsegen (Evening Prayer) from Hansel and Gretel. How many times can I listen to Panis Angelicus? At least a million and this one is good.

Dennis takes on three songs from the movie Les Choristes: Cerf-Volant, Vois Sur Ton Chemnin and Caresse Sur L’Ocean.

He does You Raise Me Up in a very ‘American Idol’ style, you know where they repeat a verse three times, each time getting higher and more intense, the microphone held high and their eyes squinched tightly shut.

I’m not a fan of American Idol but he also does a sweet rendition of Moon River and The Last Unicorn. He even gives us some Handel and Mozart and Bach to show he’s not afraid of classical music.

The liner notes are in German and so is his home page but I managed to get a translation of some of it. He was with the Berlin State and Cathedral Choir when he sang Ave Maria on 'Germany’s Got Talent' and made it to the finals. He said he wanted to buy his mother a better hearing aid with the prize money. That was bound to get him some votes from the older female viewers.

At age five he began playing the violin and at seven, the piano. Dennis began singing at eight years old as a member of the Berlin State Opera Chorus where he has performed under the direction of some big name conductors, like Simon Rattle. I could say more about him if only my German was better.

He’s a cute kid and probably should have won that talent show. I hope his mom got that hearing aid.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I have an album that’s… different. It’s title is In the Beginning, Choral Masterpieces of the 1940’s and it comes to us from the Gloucester Cathedral Choir.
This is a 2005 release that features works by four modern composers.

Benjamin Britten is first with Rejoice in the Lamb which takes its text from a poem by Christopher Smart (1722-1771). Smart spent much of his later life in a home for the insane and produced a long, rambling and strange work.
For example: “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry. For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.”
Britten extracted parts of the writings and set them to music in a modern style.

Ildebrando Pizzetti uses a poem by his friend Gabriel d’Annuzio for the first part of his Tre Composizioni Corali and the other two parts are taken from the book of Lamentations.

Gerald Finzi was a Jewish agnostic but used the poems of Thomas Aquinas to create Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice.

Aaron Copland’s In the Beginning uses text from Genesis.

All of these are modernistic and so not like what I expected. Some of it takes getting used to but while the music is okay the voices are great. I love hearing the boys doing such complicated work. True music lovers, those who are better educated in music than I am will probably like this CD. I’m going to have to listen to it a few more times before I decide.

All of the selections are either accompanied by the organ or are voices alone.
Copland’s is the only one to use a mezzo-soprano. The Gloucester choir is impressive, both in skill and in sound. I would like to get something more traditional from them.

I stole couple of words about the choir from their web site.
The Gloucester Cathedral Choir is the successor to the boys and monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, who first sang daily worship in this magnificent building almost 1,000 years ago.
The choir sings six services each week as well as major Easter and Christmas services; it also participates each year in the Three Choirs Festival, Europe’s longest established music festival.
Gloucester Cathedral is also called the Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Undivided Trinity
The cathedral has been used from 2000 as a location for filming the first, second and sixth Harry Potter films, which has generated revenue and publicity, but caused some controversy amongst those who suggest that the theme of the films was unsuitable for a church.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Metropolitan Boys Choir is from, as you would expect, Metropolis, home of Superman and his friend Clark Kent. Occasionally they are called upon to assist law and order and help Superman put the bad guys in prison. They put them in Sing-sing which is why they need the talents of the choir.

Oh, well. Actually I just made that stuff up. The truth is a little less glamorous. They are actually from the Minneapolis/Saint Paul region.

I picked up their 1994 CD “How Great Thou Art”, 21 Traditional Hymns.
What’s not to like about these boys? They sing with simplicity and charm. These are the hymns that we sang in the Baptist church when I was a boy, Songs like Rock of Ages, Bringing in the Sheaves, the Old Rugged Cross and more.

I wonder if these are just American hymns or if they are sung in European churches as well. They really are very pretty.

Some of the songs on this album are accompanied by a piano and others by the organ so they sound very much the way they did in our church. Except these boys have rehearsed a lot and sound very professional.
Even though there are 21 songs the CD is over too quickly. It’s only about 45 minutes long.

I couldn’t find very much interesting information about them but I lifted some from their web site.

“The Metropolitan Boys Choir is an organization of young men from the Minneapolis/Saint Paul twelve county Metropolitan area. The boys range in age from five to eighteen. Founded in 1971 by Music Director, Bea Hasselmann, they merit the title "Minnesota's Young Ambassadors of Song" given to them by the late Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey. The Choir regularly appears in concert halls, churches, convention centers and senior residences throughout the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area. The Choir has performed regularly with the Minnesota Orchestra for twenty-nine years. “

I did find one statement and I hope he doesn’t mind my quoting him “… being in the MBC helped teach me stage-presence. Even now, almost every time I sing or play in front of a group some lesson from MBC comes flashing back to my mind.” That's really nice.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I recently had to laugh at myself because I heard a song that excited me so much I played it a dozen times, then ordered the CD. It was Adon Olam by the Yeshiva Boys Choir, a new choir to me. The Yeshiva Boys Choir was formed at the Yeshiva of Cleveland, but has since moved to Brooklyn, New York

I thought I was ordering the CD with the song Adon Olam but I should have read more carefully because what I got was the song Adon Olamim. Drat those foreign languages, it wasn‘t the same song at all. I turned right around and ordered the correct one and it came today.

I'm happy with both albums. I like these boys because they’re different than anything else I’ve found so far. The music is mostly in Hebrew and done in a very pop style with a snappy beat and great orchestration. The voices of the various soloists are especially nice. They’re all clear and strong and the boys sing loudly with almost a sense of joy. There is no chance of these boys being overshadowed by the orchestra.

If it were not for the crowd of squealing teenage girls I would like to see them in concert sometime. I see from the vids they do some dancing as well as singing and one of their teachers dances back and forth across the front of the stage to lead them. It looks like a lot of fun.

Most of the songs are in Hebrew and the boys put a lot of those Middle-eastern vocal flourishes in them and some of the rhythms are the sort you hear in Jewish dances. For all I know they may be singing about something sad but I can't keep from smiling and tapping my foot whenever I listen to them.

According to Wikipedia the song Adon Olam is rather traditional and is sung in many different ways. They mention a version sung to Yankee Doodle Dandy. I listened to a couple of other groups singing it on YouTube and this group does it in a unique way. It's the best.

The lyrics are fun to follow along with,
Adon olam, asher malach, b'terem kol y'tzir nivra. L'et na'asah v'cheftzo kol, azai melech sh'mo nikra. V'acharey kichlot hakol, l'vado yimloch nora. V'hu haya, v'hu hoveh, v'hu yih'yeh b'tifara.

Also, I learned that a Yeshiva is a school for boys and men that teaches Jewish religion and law.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Students in a psychology class at a Texas university were attending their first class on emotional extremes.
"In order to establish some parameters," the professor said to a student, "What is the opposite of joy?"
"Sadness," replied the student.
"And what is the opposite of depression?", the professor asked another student.
"Elation," she answered.
"And you, young man," he said to a young cowboy. "What about the opposite of woe?"
"Well, sir, I believe that'd be 'giddy-up'."
Speaking of Texas, I have a 1998 CD from the Texas Boys Choir titled Montage. The title refers to the wide variety of songs presented here. They tackle patriotic songs, gospel numbers, a French madrigal, a Venezuelan children’s song, a Bach cantata, some cowboy songs from the American west and even Agnus Dei and Ave Verum Corpus.

Apparently there are sub-groups in the choir. Some numbers are performed by the full choir but others are by The Young Men’s Ensemble and some by the Treble Choir.
The young men do a smooth, haunting Shenandoah and the trebles shine on All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Their Adon Olam, the popular Jewish song, is really pretty and I liked Ghost Riders, too.
It’s a pretty good album, all in all.

The guys in the picture here are taller than I’m used to seeing in a boy’s choir, but I hear that everything is bigger in Texas.

Some basic information: The Texas Boys Choir was founded in 1946 as the Denton Civic Boys Choir and in 1957 moved to Fort Worth and was renamed the Texas Boys Choir. They have made more than 35 albums including two Grammy winners. They got a gold medal in Mixed Boys’ Choirs at the 2004 Choir Olympics in Bremen, Germany.

They provide any boy, regardless of socio-economic or ethnic background a structured environment for developing their talent in an accredited academic institution. Along with music they learn self-discipline, self-confidence, decorum, patriotism, and leadership. I got that from their web site.

Composer Igor Stravinsky called the Texas Boys Choir "the best boys choir in the world", but then he had never heard of Libera.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Windsbacher Knabenchor
There is a famous choir that I have neglected, so far.
Windsbach is a town in the district of Ansbach, in Bavaria, Germany. According to Wikipedia they are proud of two institutions, their high school, the Johann Sebastian Bach Gymnasium, and their renowned boys choir, Windsbacher Knabenchor. (Gymnasium, in German, is a secondary school for gifted students).

I’m sorry to say that I only have one of their CD’s but I‘m sure that more will arrive sometime in December. The one I have was recommended by a friend, Johann Sebastian Bach - Die Motetten.

I’ve complained before about the way boys’ voices are often overpowered by the adult voices and even by the orchestra. Here the young men sing beautifully, but it’s the trebles who are prominent all the way through. Plus the motets are a cappella so the boys’ voices are not hidden at all and the purity of their sound is wonderful.
I don’t know what to say about their singing except that it’s great. That’s not very poetic, I’m afraid.

The name Motet comes either from the Latin movere, ("to move") or a Latinized version of the French mot, “word”, (I love Wikipedia).
There are 6 motets on this CD and I’m not familiar with any of them, but they have names like Komm, Jesu, Komm; Jesu, Meine Freude and Furchte Dich Nicht, Ich Bin Bei Dir. I’m sure that true Bach fans know them well.

Apparently, Bach encountered a “miserable quality of singing” at St Thomas’ Church so the motets originally had musical accompaniment, but later the a cappella versions became favored.
According to their web site, “The Windsbach Boys Choir is one of the leading ensembles of its kind. Sacred music - spanning from the Renaissance to the present - forms the core of its repertoire. In addition to many a cappella pieces, the major oratorios of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Stravinsky are its primary focus. Founded in 1946, the choir gives approximately seventy performances a year in Germany and abroad, reaching some 35,000 concertgoers.