Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank goodness Christmas is finally over. I’m so tired of being good and not pouting. Now that the presents have been opened I can relax again.

One thing I got was the 1997 Choir of New College, Oxford CD titled Early One Morning, Music From Past Times, For Our Time. This is an excellent collection of folk songs, mostly from the UK, that have been enriched by these powerful choral voices. Most of the songs are well-known, even by me, such as Linden Lea, Loch Lomond, Greensleeves and The Minstrel Boy.

One really good song is Londonderry Air. (Someone once told me that he used to think the title of the song was London Derriere, a song about a Parisian hooker in London. I told him he was thinking of the story A Tail of Two Cities.)

The choir performs this song without words, just ‘ooh-ing and aah-ing’. I wish I knew what that type of singing is called, there must be a word for it. It isn’t humming yet there are no words, either.

Anyway, I realized something when listening to this song, that words can get in the way. If you are listening to the interplay of beautiful voices then it can be really nice to not be distracted by the lyrics so you can concentrate more on just the sounds. It’s similar, for me, with foreign language songs. Since I don’t understand the words I don’t pay as much attention to them. They become just sounds.

The director, Edward Higginbottom, has included a couple of American spirituals, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Steal Away and also Shenandoah, all which are really pretty.

Some of the other songs are Early One Morning, Waly, Waly, The Skye Boat Song and more.

It’s funny that the credits list Christopher Hughes as the organ scholar because that seems to indicate that the organ is present somewhere on the album, but I can’t hear it. The choir is singing without music, as far as I can tell. They really don’t need any accompaniment.
This is another great CD from the Choir of New College, but I doubt they could ever make a bad one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

God Bless Us, Every One!

In case you had not noticed yet, Libera has a short Christmas greeting video on their home page. We get to see some of the new faces in the group, but brace yourself for the shock when Josh and Liam speak their names. They sound like Barry White. Okay, maybe not quite that deep but they’re definitely not trebles any more.
The boys’ and girls’ choirs from Manchester, England are being closed down, according to the article I’ve linked here. And as if that was not tragedy enough, the Boys’ Choir of Harlem is also saying good-bye. Lack of funding seems to be the problem for all of them. I hope this recession ends soon, before more is lost.

Santa came early this year and piled a bunch of gifts under my tree, but the darn things all say, “Do Not Open Until Christmas” so it may be a next week before I post again. I need to see what new CD’s are waiting to be unwrapped on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, I have something special. For Christmas I want to talk about a Jewish choir. I’ve mentioned before about how much I like the Yeshiva Boys’ Choir. I got curious about the faces behind all of those distinctive and interesting voices so I got their DVD titled YBC Live.

Something I always think of when I hear these guys is “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…”. These boys smile as they belt out the words, loudly and with confidence. There are several soloists that take turns at the mike during each song and they are all really cute kids but the most charming one is also the smallest boy. He may be three feet tall but I’m not so sure about that. The director, Eli (pronounced Ellie) Gerstner introduced him as his little brother Yaakov and he has a great Munchkin voice that makes me grin whenever he reaches over his head to take the mike off the stand and belts out the lyrics like a little pro.

Naturally, the music on the DVD, unlike the Cd, has not been polished up by the studio producers, but there is always something fun about seeing a live DVD performance.
All of the boys are very accomplished, more so at singing than at dancing, although they do that well enough. Yossi Newman directs their singing and choreography which is sort of a cross between calisthenics and line dancing with a little bit of Macarena thrown in. They’re not always together on the moves, but it’s a lot of fun to watch them. A couple of the boys manage to do some fancy footwork at the front of the stage during one or two numbers.

They sing in Hebrew so I don’t have any idea what they are saying. It doesn’t matter, though.

There is one thing that I’m not happy about with this DVD and that is the mis-labeling on the cover which says “YBC Live“. It turns out that half the disc is given over to solos by Eli Gerstner and several songs by an adult trio. I don’t recall this being mentioned anywhere in the description when I ordered it. I don’t want to hear a guy's voice if he’s over 18. I’m kidding, of course. There are lots of great adult male voices out there, like…, well…, uh….that guy who, you know, heck, I’ll think of it later.

You can check out their video Kol Hamispalel on YouTube.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Choirboys

This is the last Christmas album I will talk about this year. There’s no use overdoing it.

There are The Choirboys and then there are The Choirboys. Two trios, one recorded their CD in 2005 and the other in 2007. Perhaps the main thing they have in common is their producer, Ian Tilley, who also did editing and mixing on both CD’s.

(Just a quick aside: I once ordered Fiona Pears DVD and Ian Tilley himself emailed me to remind me that it was not in Region 1 format and that it wouldn’t play on my DVD player, only on my computer and asked if I still wanted it. What a nice guy.)

Just as the first trio of Patrick, Ben and C.J. were chosen by auditions the same selection process found this second trio, William Dutton (son of Paul), Bill Doss and Andrew Swait.
These boys have just an outstanding set of voices that are beautiful together on their CD The Carols Album.

The songs here are the standard Christmas fare, everyone’s favorites, so there’s really no need to describe them, but it’s the harmonies and arrangements that make it a special recording. The orchestra is excellent and so is the backup choir. They even have some help from All Angels, a female quartet, on O, Holy Night.

Here is a little biographical information I lifted (stole) from the internet.
“Bill was a chorister at the Belmont Grosvenor School, near Harrogate … He has twice been awarded the Outstanding Performance Award at the National Junior Choir Championships.Bill is now a chorister at St. Olave's School in York.”

“Andrew Swait was just ten years old when he recorded 'Light of the World' in October 2005 as an Abbey School Chorister. In addition to the demands of full choristership in The Abbey School Choir … Andrew was also a member of Tewkesbury Abbey Parish Choir. Upon the closure of the Abbey School in September 2006 Andrew was given a choral scholarship to Cheltenham College where he continues his work as a chorister.”

“William Dutton is a student at St Aidan's Church of England High School and a Chorister of St Mark's Church, Harrogate. In October 2006 he won the title of BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year… and was delighted to be invited to sing with Jose Carreras in his 2006 Royal Albert Hall Christmas concert.
William is also a violinist and… has been a member of the National Children's Orchestra (NCO) since 2003, and in 2006 was awarded a NCO-Leverhulme Trust Scholarship in recognition of his exceptional talent.”

There will be, someday, another trio to be called The Choirboys. I can’t wait to hear them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Boys Air Choir changed its membership frequently, selecting some of the best boys‘ voices in the UK. The one name that seems to appear on all of their CD‘s is Connor Burrowes, sometimes as a singer and most of the time as a conductor. His brothers appear with him on some of the albums and other boys names appear on more than one CD, but in their 2003 release Merry Christmas the names are all new ones, again with the exception of Connor.

Tom Crow, Marcus Roberts, Charlie Hughes, Hugh Saffrey, Sam Hancock, and Joseph Rawlins make their only appearance here but it’s a memorable one.

It’s interesting that Merry Christmas was followed up the next year with Merry Christmas + Five which had the same 13 songs from this album along with the five Christmas songs from their earlier CD Believe.

I find myself putting down whatever I’m doing when I hear this CD. It’s so pretty that I want to clear away the distractions and just listen closely.
They open with a wonderful version of Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. The arrangement is unique and the soloist is really good.

Sleigh Ride is one of the best cuts. It’s perky and the harmonies are especially sweet and smooth.

The most unusual song on here is A Spaceman Came Traveling by Chris De Burgh. I’ve never heard this one and I like it. The tune is pretty. The premise of the lyrics is that his ship arrived 2,000 years ago and was the star that hung over the stable.

The Holly and the Ivy has an arrangement that’s really different. This time it’s a fast tempo with a bouncy piano instead of the usual slow song that everyone else does.

Some of the other cuts are O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and a fast A cappella version of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.

One of the sweetest songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. They don’t tell which boy is the soloist but his voice is soft and his accent is charming.

This CD should be in every fan’s collection. I like it a lot.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I’ve never been to Vienna but I’ve seen lots of pictures and if ever a place was designed to evoke a Christmas feel it is surely this one. The gorgeous old buildings decked out in lights and snow, the beautiful decorations and those choir boys, it all makes me want to be there.

Children and Christmas are a perfect pairing and never more so than when it’s the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Of the choir’s many Christmas CD’s I have three and all three are very different from each other.
The first one, from 2003, is titled The Christmas Album and has a photo of several smiling boys around a small candle-lit tree. There is a small, white Teddy bear dressed in a WSK uniform standing in front of the tree and I want one of those. If you should ever see one somewhere, tell me.

Anyway, the songs on the album are of the very popular variety. Songs like Jingle Bells, O Holy Night, Stille Nacht and the best version of Little Drummer Boy I’ve ever heard.
They also include a powerful version of Suo Gan with English lyrics and John Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War Is Over).
There’s no need to describe the singing. It’s the Vienna Boys’ Choir so of course it’s delightful.

The second CD has more of an English feel to it. This one is from 1995 and is titled Christmas Angels. It starts off with Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and this time has all 11 songs (or 12 if you count 4a and 4b as separate). One of my very favorite songs from this group is That Yonge Child. The vocals on this song are cleverly staggered with each verse repeated in such a way that it makes an echo-y effect. It’s pretty cool.

For more English carols there are Coventry Carol, We’ve Been Awhile A-Wandering and Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. Of course there is also Joy to the World, Deck the Halls, Adeste Fideles and a bunch more popular tunes.

My third Vienna Boys Choir CD is titled Christmas With The Vienna Boys’ Choir and was recorded in 1993. This could have been called A Mozart and Bach Christmas, or perhaps, Christmas for Smart People.
It starts off with Mozart’s Mass in C Major K. 317 “Coronation”, a six-part Mass with Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.
The Bach portion is Cantata “Ich Hatte Viel Bekummernis", a two part composition with sections like Sinfonia, Corro and Recitativo.
It’s very nice but somehow it just doesn’t say Christmas to me. I prefer more popular carols to put me in the Christmas mood.

Still, I know I’ll be listening to the Vienna Boys’ Choir this Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Something about the month of December seems to be good for creating choristers. I was looking at the birthdays on BCSD and there are a lot of well-known boys who were born during this month.
Aled Jones, Anthony Way, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Declan, C. J. Porter-Thaw, Bill Goss, Donny Osmond, Aaron Carter, Joseph McManners, and from Libera, Kavana Crossley, Joe Snelling, Liam Connery and Daren Geraghty were all December kids.

When I discovered Libera I had to rush out and get every recording I could find. It was particularly nice to find Angel Voices 3 by the St. Philips Boy’s Choir, a collection of Christmas songs. This period of Libera's recording history gives us some of the very prettiest voices like Liam O'Kane, Darren and Stephen Geraghty, Alex and Chris Baron and Adam Harris. All of them have something special, a confidence and a level of skill that you might not expect from such youthful voices.

This was my first introduction to some of the great English Christmas songs like In the Bleak Mid-Winter, the Holly and the Ivy and Gaudete.
Several of the songs on this CD were new for me, such as Cliff Richard’s Saviour’s Day, a modern classic from 1990 with a wonderful melody.

Apparently, lots of people recorded versions of Walking in the Air, the song that Peter Auty sang for the animated television show, but this is a very good rendition by Liam O'Kane.

An interesting song is In Dulci Jubilo which is the tune to Good Christian Men Rejoice. These original lyrics are thought to have been written around 1328 by Heinrich Seuse.

They added a fun verse, about sun and palm trees in Beverly Hills, to White Christmas that most singers don’t include. Liam O’Kane solos on this one and it always makes me smile.

Classic carols like Away In a Manger, The First Noel and Silent Night are just wonderful. Especially nice is the way O Come All Ye Faithful is done without the usual adult voices that most choirs rely on to give the song more power. It’s maybe even more lovely with just the boy’s singing.

I’ve always loved Do You Hear What I Hear and little twelve year-old Adam Harris solos on this one and he’s really charming.

There are twenty songs on this CD and they are all excellent. I listen to this all year long.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Maybe my favorite Christmas CD in my collection is the American Boychoir’s Carol album. It’s everything Christmas music should be. The singing is powerful and rich, the orchestral arrangements are brilliant and stirring.

The liner notes say it best, “The American Boychoir, performing with orchestra, chamber ensemble, organ and carillon in the cathedral-like acoustics of the Princeton University Chapel, brings a new sound to this joyous music. The delicate yet brilliant sounds… combine to create a new listening experience.”

They open with, from the Ukraine, Carol of the Bells which makes great use of the carillon and then they move into a regal sounding Joy to the World with a full orchestra that fills the hall to the rafters with joy.

There is a new song that I was not familiar with, This Christmastide (Jesseye’s Carol) and it’s really lovely and soft. The organ is perfect with the voices and together they build to a thrilling peak. It makes me tingle.

Christmas Day, by Gustav Holst, is a great medley of Good Christian Men Rejoice, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Come Ye Lofty, Come Ye Lowly and The First Nowell. There is some complex layering of voices here.

Silent Night! Holy Night!, O Holy Night, Away in a Manger… these are filled with those fabulous American Boychoir harmonies that James Litton designs so well. I know that Angelic is an adjective that is overused to the point of becoming trite, but heck, what other word is there to describe this sound?

I’ve never heard a more beautifully haunting version of What Child is This? It’s very moving. I’m not always accurate when it comes to identifying certain instruments in the orchestra but I believe what I’m hearing here is harp, oboe, flute and violin among others. It’s a great combination.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and O Come, All Ye Faithful are loud, powerful and uplifting songs and the choir sings them perfectly.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas is a short, pretty version that is less than two minutes long and the interesting thing about it is that the coda was composed by a 14-year-old member of the choir.

I give this album my strongest recommendation. If it doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit, well, you might need to be visited by some ghosts to adjust your attitude.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fa-la-la-la-la La-la-la-la

Several years ago the children’s choir was performing their part of the church Christmas program and my nephew, who was six, had a small verse to sing.

He knew the words perfectly but when he stood in front of all those people he forgot all of it. I could see that he was struggling but finally he started singing the first thing that came to mind, a little ditty that my brother had taught him.

Jingle bells
Shotgun shells
Rabbits all the way
One jumped up,
Shot him in the butt,
The other one got away.

Everyone laughed and turned to look at my brother who tried to sink through the pew, and his wife, who slapped him on the back of his head.

Over the past few years I have made my own holiday traditions. Around Christmas time I buy a bottle of Godiva chocolate liqueur and a bottle of Bailey’s. A couple of fingers of these mixed in equal parts makes the best chocolate milk ever. It’s great to sip one on a cold night sitting in front of the fire with a good book and some boys singing carols on the stereo.

I always save a few vacation days for that period between Christmas and the New Year. The house is decorated with lights and greenery and ornaments, the gifts have been exchanged and everyone has gone home, the candles smell of cinnamon and the Vienna boys are keeping me company. If I’m lucky there will be snow.

Maybe I shouldn’t tell this, but one thing I like to do each year is to make a compilation CD of my favorite Christmas music and give it to my friends. I find some pretty picture on the internet to use as a CD cover and slap a title on it, then I buy those round adhesive labels and print them to put on each disc. It all looks pretty professional.

I have a lot of Christmas albums by boy choirs so it’s fun and sometimes hard to pick my favorite version of each song, but it's a gift that everyone enjoys receiving.

This may not be exactly legal to do (so don‘t tell Libera), but I only make a dozen copies and they are for people who would not buy the albums anyway. I feel like I’m doing a good thing by promoting the artists and, besides, I think if I was really being bad I wouldn’t get so many cool new CD’s from Santa.