Saturday, November 28, 2009

Everyone knows that the Vienna Boys Choir Brucknerchor is touring the US but do you ever read the reports they give on the WSK home page?
If you want a good laugh you should take a look at their blog entries. They are a lot more fun than mine and the humor makes the boys even more endearing.


The painting at the top of this page is titled May Morning on Magdalen Tower and was painted by William Holman Hunt, one of the greatest of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painters.
The figures are all portraits (the boy holding the lily is his son) but Hunt never intended to paint one actual performance, only ‘to represent the spirit of a beautiful, primitive and, in a large sense, eternal service’.

Wikipedia says that “May Morning is an annual event in Oxford, on May day. It starts early at 6 am with the Magdalen College Choir singing a hymn, the Hymnus Eucharisticus, from the top of Magdalen Tower, a tradition of over 500 years. Large crowds normally gather under the tower along theHigh Street and on Magdalen Bridge. This is then followed by general revelry and festivities including Morris dancing, impromptu music, etc., for a couple of hours.” If anyone has ever been to this tell me if it is as much fun as it sounds.

I always like it when someone suggests a CD to me and this time a friend told me about The Choir of Magdalen College and their new release Carols By Candlelight, Music for Advent and Christmas. This is not the usual collection of carols that everyone else does. The album is divided into sections, The Fall, Good Tidings, The Annunciation, The Birth of Jesus and Epiphany.

There are a few songs that are familiar like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, but most of the songs are new to me and new music is always welcome.

There are songs like I Look From Afar by Palestrina, Britten‘s A Hymn To The Virgin, The Truth From Above by Ralph Vaughan Williams and quite a few more. An especially beautiful number is In Dulci Jubilo by Pearsall, with a soloist named Alexander Knighton.
This is my first CD from the Magdalen College Choir but I’m going to look for more.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I am listening to another CD that I got from Lammas Records. This one is Britten-Missa Brevis and Other Works For Treble Voices featuring Kieran White and the Boy Choristers of Wells Cathedral.
If I close my eyes I can pretend I’m sitting in those dimly lit stone walls and hearing the rich, clear voices of the boys echoing through the church.

Little Kieran White has a fine quality to his singing and he’s one of those singers who can roll his R’s with ease. That’s something I hear in the English cathedral choirs but not so much in the American ones. Apparently it's something that usually has to be learned as a child and they don't teach that here. I like it,though.

The Wells choir is as beautiful a choir as you could want. They do a variety of songs, starting with Britten’s Missa Brevis which is a really interesting mass. I especially love the Benedictus and the Agnus Dei with their dark mood.

Young Ned Berry sings When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, one of my favorites songs. The choir sings Ireland’s Ex Ore Innocentium, Faure’s Pie Jesu, A Grateful Heart by Mary Plumstead and several other good songs.

Most of the songs on this album are solos by Kieran, accompanied by piano or the organ. Be Still For The Presence of The Lord by Archer is one that I particularly like and so is If With All Your Hearts by Mendelssohn.

This is a 2004 release recorded mostly in Wells Cathedral by Lance Andrews, who has retired from Lammas Records. I can’t think of a finer career than to visit cathedrals hearing and recording boys singing. It would be an enjoyable thing to do for a living as well as saving some wonderful music from disappearing forever.

It is interesting that since 1994 Wells Cathedral has a choir of eighteen girls as well as their boys choir. This CD is done by the boys.

A bit of history: The wells, which gave the city its name, are natural springs which can be found in the garden of the Bishop's Palace, including the holy well of St. Andrew.
In 909 the church of St. Andrew became the first Wells Cathedral. By 1180 the foundations of a new church in the Gothic style were being laid to the north of the old one.
In 1477 Bishop Robert Stillington embarked on a complete rebuilding of the chapel on a grand scale. The foundations of this cruciform building are what can be seen today in the Camery garden. This grand chapel did not last long and was blown up with gunpowder in 1552 because Edward VI had abolished Chantry chapels in the height of Reformation zeal.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alan Mould, former Headmaster at St. John’s College choir school in Cambridge has written The English Chorister, A History, a book that’s packed with interesting information dating back to Biblical times.
I’ve mentioned it before and I still like to explore it. I have a tough time remembering all the dates and names and details, though. It might be easier if it were written more like a story than a text book but it’s still fun to sift through it. Some parts are very sad. For example…

Choral music in England was not always appreciated as it is today. During the Protestant Reformation the choirs were shut down until sanity could once again be established. During the reign of Elizabeth I choirs were nurtured and at that time Richard Hooker wrote “Church music is in truth most admirable… They must have hearts very dry and tough” who do not draw spiritual delight from it.

In 1572 the Puritans submitted to Parliament that cathedrals were “the dennes of all loitering lubbers, wher Deane… Canons… the cheefe chaunter, singing men… squeaking queresters, organ players… live in great idleness and have their abiding.”
Reading that passage makes me think that much of the ignorance of the Reformists could be tied to their inability to spell.

Things continued to worsen and later, in 1642, Canterbury Cathedral was sacked, the books ruined and the organ damaged. Windsor Castle saw its choristers expelled. At Winchester Cathedral the music books were burnt and the organ wrecked. The same damages occurred at Chichester, Peterborough, Norwich and other cathedrals.

“At Hereford, York and Exeter… choristers were driven out with the jeering cry, ‘boyes, we have spoiled your trade, you must go and sing Hot Pudding Pies’.” I have no idea what that means but it sounds quite rude.

John Vicars wrote: “Whereas there was wont to be heard nothing but Roaring-boyes, tooting and squeaking Organ-pipes and the Cathedral-Catches of Morley…the bellowing Organs are demolish’d and pulled down and the (choristers) driven out…”
They considered it an improvement and in 1643 “the sound of boys’ voices singing in quire was utterly silenced throughout England”.

It’s hard to imagine. Fortunately, the sons of the men who were expelled from the choirs became the next generation of singers. I love a happy ending.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ask and ye shall receive. I just noticed something a couple of days ago. On the Libera home page they are giving us a free download of a new song, ‘O Sanctissima’, that will be on their next CD which is hoped to be released in March, 2010.
It’s a beautiful song and it’s unmistakably Libera.


With the great number of choral songs that have been written over the centuries it is little wonder that there are so many I have not heard yet. I do keep on trying, though.
There are a lot of beautiful songs that have become standards, at least for boy choirs. For example, I have almost 20 versions of Pie Jesu, at least 10 of Miserere and 10 of Ave Verum Corpus.

But I have also found songs that I love which are somehow less popular and I wonder why these are not performed more often. Perhaps I'm just not finding the right CD's.

Everyone knows Franck's Panis Angelicus but have you heard his Alleluia! from the Choeur de Pacques? The Choir of King’s College sing it on their Heavenly Voices CD and it's really gorgeous. The funny thing is that I can't find much about it on the internet, not even the words.

I think it must take a special voice to sing Peuri Conceniti by Herbeck because of those extra high notes near the end. The Vienna Boys Choir tackle it easily on their Ave Maria CD and Jean Baptiste Maunier does a pretty version but those are the only two that I have found.

Winchester Cathedral, on a CD titled Allegri Miserere and Other Choral Favorites, has a very good soloist singing This Is The Record of John. I’ve only found it on one other CD, but what a unique song. I love the way the choir repeats each verse and changes it to make it sound more complex.

Zuercher Sangerknaben has a CD called Ave Maria which has a lot of different versions of that song by different composers but one that I had not heard before is the one by Paolo Tosti. It’s sung by a tenor and sounds like it could be from an opera.

The Choir of the Abbey School at Tewkesbury has a Favorite Hymns CD that features more than one outstanding song, but the one I love best is I, The Lord Of Sea And Sky. One particular boy chorister has a voice that shines forth even though the others are singing just as loudly. This is a great song that has great lyrics, like “I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts of love alone.”

I’m not sure what my point is, maybe that we should always welcome music that we are unfamiliar with because there’s no telling when a gem will pop up. I know a lot of people who still listen to the same music they listened to in high school or college and they’re happy with that. Not me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I was complaining one day about the lack of web sites where people were discussing boy choir music. I had found a couple of discussion groups but not much was happening on them so a friend said, “Why don’t you start a blog?”

I wasn’t sure how to start and it took a while to find my voice but soon I got fairly comfortable with it and now this is my 100th post, a goal I had not thought about reaching.

Besides the enjoyment that I get from doing this there is the added bonus that people actually read it and talk to me about it, too. You have all been really kind and helpful and you’ve taught me a lot so I would like to say thanks.

Since this is a special post I wanted to dedicate it to my favorite boy choir, Libera. These kids must have the most loyal and ardent fan base of any choir in the world. Their fans span every age group and every continent (with the probable exception of Antarctica) and there are tons of fan sites on the internet. Even after a couple of years I still feel that excitement, that magic that they bring.

An excellent CD to own is Libera Eternal, the Best of Libera. It’s a double CD with 32 of their best songs. Most of them were recorded for previous albums, some are new versions of previous recordings while some others are remixes of older tunes.

The remix of Heaven, this time sung by Josh and Liam, is especially pretty. Steven Geraghty did the remix of Sempiterna with vocals by Tom and Joseph Sandros Wilde.

There are two totally new songs. One is You Were There, the theme from the Japanese movie “Nobody to Watch Over Me”, with a solo by Tom Cully.
I haven’t seen the film but I watched the trailer and it’s pretty cool to hear them on it.

The other new song is Taverner’s Mother of God, a soft, slow song that showcases their special harmonies.
I can't wait to for their next CD. I hope they do one sometime in the coming year.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It isn’t always easy to find these CD’s especially since I don’t understand foreign languages enough to safely order them on the internet. More than once I have misread the description and received something I didn’t care for.

On top of that I worry about putting my credit card number out there in too many places because of the chance of some hacker getting it. It happened to me once several years ago when I foolishly used my debit card on-line and a few days later found that my checking account was short $3,000. The bank replaced it but I’m still a little gun shy.

That’s why I prefer to buy from a few central sources and one that I found recently is Lammas Records. Looking at their web site you might wonder if they are still in business because none of their stock is newer than 2006. They explained that Lance Andrews has retired and will be issuing no more CD‘s on the Lammas label and they will not be replacing any of their stock, but they continue to sell what remains. Plus a lot of their music is available as downloads from the internet.

I ordered a couple of CD’s and was happy with the transaction. They only charged $30.00 for the two and that included shipping.
One of the CD’s from them is a 2005 release from the Truro Cathedral Choir titled Peace On Earth, Sacred and Secular Music by Orlando Gibbons. I’m not that familiar with Gibbons’ work but I did recognize a couple of pieces, Song 46 and This Is The Record of John, both of which I really like.

The choir sings with just the organ quietly supporting them so their voices are not obscured, just the way I like them. Treble soloists Max Spreckley and Matthew Oddy do a beautiful duet on If Ye Be Risen and it’s fun to listen to the interplay of their voices. Young Patrick Windsor sounds great on Nay Let Me Weep.

It may not be a really special thing but I like it when the organ and a boy’s voice hit the same note and the sounds are so similar that they blend together seamlessly. It makes me smile.

The Truro Cathedral Choir consists of eighteen boy choristers and twelve gentlemen. They all sound wonderful. They tour every two years so maybe they will come to the states sometime soon.
An interesting note about Orlando Gibbons is that he was once a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge until 1598.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

For someone with a liberal arts education I sure do have a lot of holes in my learning. I’m always finding out about things that I probably should have known already. I thought about asking the university for a partial refund for the things they didn’t teach me, but I’m sure they would just tell me that I should have paid more attention in class.

I’m trying to learn more about famous composers like Sir Edward William Elgar who was most famous for his Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Everyone knows the tunes but not so many know the man behind them.

That’s why I picked up the CD titled Elgar, Sacred Choral Music from the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge. The CD was recorded in July, 2003 so many of the boys who sang on their 2002 DVD, Ave Verum were probably still in the choir. I feel as if I know them.

There are thirteen songs including a version of Ave Verum Corpus and one of Ave Maria. There is also Light of the World, Ave Maris Stella, O Harken Thou and more. An interesting one is Rossetti’s translation from Italian of the poem Go Song of Mine, by Cavalcanti.

It's always enjoyable to read about someone’s rise to success in the art world especially if they come from humble beginnings like Elgar. His father was a piano-tuner, organist and shopkeeper but it was from him along with his own studies that Elgar learned music.

He began as a freelance musician but when he was thirty he wrote the Imperial March and that was his first success. Over the next few years he continued to grow in prominence with his Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius.

He wrote the coronation music for King Edward VII and was awarded honorary doctorates along with a knighthood and in 1931 he became a Baronet.

I won’t say this is my favorite CD but I always like hearing the Choir of St. Johns College. They have a rich, full sound with those sweet trebles that rise above the warmer, deeper voices of the men.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eleven-year-old Laurence Kilsby from Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire, and Jaquelyne Hill from St Andrew's, West Tarring in Sussex are the winners of this year’s Chorister of the Year competition from the BBC. Congratulations to both of them. Their performances were outstanding and the duet at the end was really moving.


I've been making my Christmas fruitcakes. Each one takes about a pint of bourbon and they have to age for a few weeks before they are ripe. Maybe it was sampling the bourbon (to make sure it had not gone bad) that made me feel Christmas-y so I put on some carols.

One of my first and favorite Christmas CD's is The Choirboy's Christmas by that charismatic little chorister, Anthony Way. I like this album for a number of reasons, he's young here so his voice is pretty and he's backed up by the St. Paul's Cathedral choir and the English Chamber Orchestra, two fantastic groups.

Also, most of the songs here are traditional English carols so they were new to me. I wonder why these songs are not more well-known over here, or at least, why I had never heard them before I bought this CD a couple of years ago.

Everyone knows carols like Joy to the World, Silent Night and Away In a Manger, but I fell in love with songs like Sussex Carol, Dancing Day, In the Bleak Midwinter and The Holly and the Ivy.
I can never get enough of Balulalow but then who can? Too bad I can’t say the same thing for The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Brits have grown up with these songs but for the Americans who haven’t discovered them it’s really nice to add some new songs to your Christmas carol repertoire.
This album has especially powerful versions of O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The choir of St. Paul’s brings something special to all of the songs.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I watched a new video from Libera’s tour of the Philippines and here is a link to it on YouTube. The song is called Banyan Ko and the video is shot from a single view at the back of the theater. It’s a pretty song and it would sound even prettier if the audience would be quiet so I could hear it.
Maybe it’s an ethnic thing but they break into applause and cheers eight times throughout the 3-1/2 minute number. If the entire concert was like that it would have been annoying.

The good thing is that Libera sounds great. The change in members didn’t affect their special harmonies. Too bad there were no close-ups, though. It seems like they were over there for a long time and during some bad weather so I'm really glad they made it home safely.


I’m not like the rest of my family. I never was. When I was a boy I believed that I had been switched at birth and I had faith that someday my real family would pull up in a limo and take me home to our mansion. I think I was 11 when I realized one day that I looked just like my mother and those hopes were dashed.

My family is not very sophisticated. They are happy with gifts in bags that say Sears on the outside. I always wished that mine said Nieman Marcus.

I always look forward to November because this is the time of year when I start my Christmas shopping. The family laughs at me because I buy presents for myself, but I have to, it’s the only way I can get any really good stuff.

I to go to Amazon and start stuffing things into my ‘wish list’. For most of November I load it up with books, DVD’s and lots of music. Then when I get my Christmas bonus at work, which is sometime around Thanksgiving, I start dumping my wishes into the shopping cart. I make sure that they all come in groups just large enough to qualify for free shipping so there will be lots of boxes and when they arrive I wrap them and stick them under the tree. By the time Christmas morning arrives I will have forgotten what I ordered so each box will have nice surprises in it and it’s always something I really wanted.

So, when it comes to CD’s I’m open for suggestions.