Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vienna Boys Choir Goes Pop

One of the most controversial, well okay, the most controversial CD I have in my collection is a 2002 release, The Vienna Boys Choir Goes Pop. I first learned of it when I saw three of the songs on another CD, Les Plus Belles Chorales D’Enfants, which is a great compilation album of lots of great choirs.

The three songs there were My Heart Will Go On, All You Need Is Love, and Eternal Flame. I liked all three and thought they were much better than the originals. I would rather listen to WSK than Celine Dion any day.

Other songs on the CD are perhaps less… wisely chosen. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the Vienna Boys Choir, but I wasn’t anxious to hear them cover Talking Heads with Burning Down the House or Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. Actually, I kind of liked the soloist’s voice on the Metallica song. Their covers of Enya and The Police were pretty good, too.

If there is any disappointment in this CD it can’t be blamed on the boys, but is solely the responsibility of the director who chose the songs. I’m not saying that I didn’t like it, but a lot of people criticized it. Try to imagine WSK covering Prince, Madonna, Back Street Boys or Earth, Wind and Fire.

To make sure that it wasn’t just my opinion I went to to read some of the reviews there. They seemed to be one extreme or the other, one star or five stars. Here’s some comments:

“How Sad”, “Not their style”, “What horrid crap!”, “Perhaps the greatest gag gift ever”, “The worst CD ever”, “Are you people deaf?”

Those were one star comments, but several people praised it instead. They said, “Better with each listening”, “Wow!”, “I think it’s great”, “… It grows on you”.

There are a couple of comments from the boys themselves on the inside of the CD.
Matthias said, “I liked the project. It was fun to sing songs which you usually hear on the radio or on MTV.”
Josef said, “We weren’t sure initially how some of the songs that we normally just like to listen to would sound sung by us - but the result is pretty cool.”

The Vienna Boys Choir is very versatile and I think it’s fun to see them branching out and experimenting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Saw Libera

I just got back from Atlanta where I saw Libera perform at the Peachtree Presbyterian Church, a large complex in the swankiest part of town. It was really nice.

The thing I usually don’t like about general admission seating is that I never know what to expect about the size of the auditorium, what sort of crowd will attend, and what time to arrive in order to get a good seat without standing around for hours before hand.

This time everything worked out well. The place was pretty full and by counting the number of pews I estimated that there were around 500 fans in the audience. At ten dollars each that doesn’t add up to a lot of revenue so they made a low key pitch for donations.

I had hoped that Atlanta, a city of 2 million people, would turn out in bigger numbers for such a special occasion, but the people who did come were enthusiastic, even if they had never heard Libera before.

My friend and I headed to the balcony and grabbed the front row center spots. We had lots of elbow room, which is always good, and a great view of the stage. Despite the paucity of the ticket sales, Libera didn’t stint on their programs. They gave us full-color, eight page booklets with good pictures of all the boys who came. It was an excellent thing for them to autograph.

I was curious about which boys would be there and especially which veterans. Alex, Ben, Jakob, Jonathan, Josh, Liam, Sam and Tiarnan were all there plus 14 younger boys. Kavana and Freddie Ingles were excellent speakers and made us all laugh. Ben is always wonderful at clowning around.

When I saw Libera in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago the atmosphere was electric. The theater was packed with excited fans and so many people wanted autographs afterwards that the boys had to sign in shifts which meant that I only got half of the autographs that I wanted. This time I was determined make up for that so when we had coaxed an encore from the boys and everyone was standing up applauding I made a dash for the fellowship hall where, it had been announced, a queue would form after the show. I managed to buy a couple of things from the merchandise table and still was first in line for signatures.

While we waited for the kids to change and unwind we chatted with the church’s music director who told us that Libera wouldn’t be going home until Saturday so some fun activities had been planned for them. Someone was hosting a pool party and there was a chance of going to Six Flags Over Georgia. Fiona was ill, although you couldn’t tell it from her playing, and was flying back today.

I passed down the line with my program and all of the boys were super friendly and sweet. In Pittsburgh I got nervous and tongue-tied and forgot all of the things I wanted to say, but this time I was a lot more relaxed. I found out that they don’t actually get tired of people telling them how wonderful they are, that they are excited to be touring and meeting people, and that Josh’s little brother, Matt, will probably be on the next tour.

I also found out something that few other people know. This is a scoop. Remember, you saw it here first… Mini-Ben’s birthday is January 6th.
In other lists that I’ve seen of Libera birthdays, Ben’s was just listed as January, with the day unknown, so I asked him.
Okay, so I’m not really the first to find out, but I’m ahead of the BCSD site.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

England, My England

When I was ordering A Year at King's I noticed another CD from King’s College that I, somehow, didn't own so I sent for it, too. This one is a 2009 release called England, My England and it's a 2 CD set that is sort of like a greatest hits album. It sounds a lot different from the other one. Unlike the a capella singing in A Year at King's most of the pieces here are backed up with some great organ music or by the New Philharmonia Orchestra or by the Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. Although, there are still some that are voices only.

Each CD has 20 recordings (9 are listed as new) for a total of more than 2 ½ hours of beauty. It starts and ends with coronation music: Zadoc the Priest (Handel) and I Was Glad (Parry). Did you know that those two pieces have been sung at every coronation since their premiers?

This is from the liner notes: “In between are motets ancient and modern - from the miniature If Ye Love Me and the architectural splendour of the 40-part Spem in Alium to William Harris’s dramatic double-choir Spenser setting Faire is the Heaven; well-known psalms sung to Anglican chant; and favourite hymns, notably All People That on Earth Do Dwell, arranged ceremonially for another coronation, that of Elizabeth II.”

There are familiar and popular pieces like Ave Verum Corpus (Byrd), When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Rutter), Magnificat in G (Stanford) and the Hallelujah Chorus (Handel).

I was particularly taken with Requiem-Requiem Aeternum (Rutter). It’s really a wonderful piece. I think I’ve listened to it over a dozen times.

I often wonder if it's just me or does everyone experience this, where the first version that I hear, and like, of a particular song becomes my favorite, and, no matter how many other versions I hear, that first one will remain my favorite and the one I judge the others by. Abide With Me, I Vow to Thee My Country and Jerusalem are really good on this CD but I think I prefer Libera’s version of them. Of course, I may be a little prejudiced.

Anyway, great CD, great choir. I wish they would come to my neck of the woods. Maybe if I write to Dolly Parton she could invite them to Dollywood. It’s just up the road a piece. Hey, it could happen. I can just imagine Sir David Willcocks enjoying a funnel cake.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Choir of King's College

I’m sure that by now everyone knows that Libera is touring again and this time they’re coming to my part of the US. Do I have my ticket? What a silly question.

One morning, a couple of days after the tour schedule was posted, I awoke from a funny dream where I was telling people, “the British are coming, the British are coming…”.

Libera is not the only good news I’ve had lately. Today the postman delivered my new CD from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. This is a special CD titled A Year At King’s and it contains 16 choral works that span an entire year in the Church calendar and follow Christ‘s life from Advent to Ascension.

This is also another one of those CD’s that you should listen to with the lights dimmed and all distractions put aside. Kick back in the La-Z-boy recliner with a glass of wine and your headphones so you can really pay attention to the singing. The layering of the voices is complex and rich, and the trebles are especially sweet sounding. Once again the choir is singing without music, but they don‘t need it.

Most of the 16 pieces on this CD are new to me, and that’s usually a good thing. I like new things. Tavener’s version of Away In A Manger is really different from the version I’m used to.
Other unfamiliar works are Eccard’s When To The Temple, Wood’s Tis The Day Of Resurrection, Stanford’s Coelos Ascendit Hodie, and some others. They’re all good.

We all have a lot of versions of Allegri’s Miserere in our collections, but this one is one of the best. I’m always amazed and thrilled at how the boys hold those long, pretty notes for such a long time.

I first noticed the Choir of King’s College when I watched the Merchant-Ivory movie Maurice. There is one particular scene at King’s College that gives us a quick look inside the chapel while the boys are singing Miserere. The scene lasts less than a minute, but I usually rewind and listen to it a few times.

Here they follow up Miserere with Barber’s Agnus Dei, which is a perfect pairing. Both are very haunting, ethereal compositions that are sort of hypnotic and very relaxing.

Anyway, this is a great CD. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s one of those EMI OpenDisc CD’s. Those things annoy me when I want to listen on the computer.

I wish I could get back to a regular posting schedule. I’m trying, only I don’t have a lot of new things to write about right now. Oh, I do have a few CD’s that turned out to be not very exciting, so it’s a little hard to get enthusiastic about them. I do have some on order and I hope they will be more interesting.

When I was looking at A Year At King’s I came across another CD by them that I didn’t have in my collection so I’m writing about it next time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

There are a lot of things to like about the Vienna Boys Choir. They adhere to a very high standard of quality in their music and they have been the leading ambassadors of boy choir music around the world for a long, long time. WSK is actually four choirs that are all versatile and able to sing Classical music, Folk music, Chinese songs, American standards, Rock and Pop, anything. Well, I don’t think I’ve heard them do Rap or Country but that’s probably another thing to like about them.

On top of that, they have the friendliest web site of any choir I have found. You can ask questions to their Guestbook and they will answer you, usually the very next day. I’ve written to them several times and they are always kind and informative. That can’t be said about other choirs that I’ve emailed with questions. Often I don’t receive a reply at all. I won’t mention any names (coughlibera).

It’s fun to visit their site to look at the pictures which are plentiful and updated often.

Wiener Sangerknaben has re-opened their shop after taking it off-line for updates. They are once again selling their Teddy bears in the little WSK sailor suits so I ordered one and it arrived today. It’s so cute standing on my CD shelf. I just have to keep my niece from seeing it or she will swipe it. She can be really grabby for a five-year-old.

I also received a CD that I have wanted for quite some time, I Am From Austria. This is sort of an odd CD because I don’t know how they chose these particular songs. They don’t seem to have anything in common, except that they are all very nice.

The first few are movie songs like Singing in the Rain, Over the Rainbow and Chim Chim Cheree.

Then there are some Broadway numbers like If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler on the Roof, Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord, from Godspell, and a stirring version of A Wonderful Day, from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd (I love that title).

There are Folk songs, Loreley, and Danny Boy, and Classical songs like Heidneroslein, by Heinrich Werener, and the Brahms lullaby Sandmannchen.

For more modern, pop songs there is Morning Has Broken, Wir Wollen Gemeinsam Singen (Let’s Sing Together) and the title song, which I like a lot, I Am From Austria.

I also have to mention that when they sing in English their accents are adorable.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Phoenix Boys Choir

Something that always makes me laugh is an episode of the Simpsons where Homer runs into and knocks over a statue of a deer. The dialog goes:
Homer: Doh!
Lisa: A deer.
Marge: A female deer.

I was reminded of that scene recently when I got my CD from the Phoenix Boys Choir titled Drops of Golden Sun, which is, of course, the second line from that Sound of Music song Do Re Mi ... "Ray, a drop of golden sun".

These boys are pretty charming and sometimes they sound like the Vienna Boys Choir, which is probably because their director, Georg Stangelberger, worked with WSK for twelve years as Deputy Artistic Director.

The CD has a variety of songs from Hungarian folk music to Mozart’s Magic Flute. There are four Copland pieces that are nice, including one I hadn’t heard, Zion’s Walls, which they refer to as a Revivalist song.

I really like the song Cantate 2000. It’s very pretty and the harmonies are nice and smooth and it’s about twenty minutes long.

There is also The Lonely Goatherd and Do Re Mi by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and three songs by Peter Marschik. My favorite of all, on this CD is Rutter’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You, a song that isn’t sung often enough.

Two songs are by the Men of the Phoenix Boys Choir, Down in the Valley and Let All Men Sing. The first is surprising good and the second I didn’t really care for. Oh well.

A little something about the Phoenix Boys Choir: Founded in 1947, the Phoenix Boys Choir has programs featuring training in voice, music theory, and performance for boys age 7 to 14. Beginning with the Training Choir, boys can progress to Cadet, Town and Tour choirs, and upon graduation, participate in the Master’s Choir. Currently, there are approximately 250 young boys and men participating, making it one of the largest and most active boychoirs in the United States.
In 2003 they began a Neighborhood Training Choir Program. This expansion made the Phoenix Boys Choir available to all boys, regardless of where they live or their families’ financial situation.

One of their most prestigious awards was received in the summer of 2007 during the European concert tour in July. The choir participated in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival at the renowned Musikverein in Vienna in which the Phoenix Boys Choir won first place.
Last year, the choirs appeared in more than 100 performances in Arizona and across in the Midwest United States in front of approximately 50,000 people, impacted 5,400 youth and collaborated with 164 schools.

And this post comes from Me (a name I call myself).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Here is a mystery choir that I can’t seem to find out enough about. It’s the Sangerknaben Vom Wienerwald or the Boys Choir of the Vienna Woods, which sometimes is confused with the Vienna Boys Choir.

First, what I don’t know about this choir is this: Are they still around? Why don’t they have a better web site? Have they gone co-ed? Do they still record and how can we get new CD’s? Their web site seems to be down and I haven't found any CD's newer than 1999.

I keep hoping that we will hire someone from Germany at our office so I can get them to translate for me. Their German web site may have lots of information about them, I don't know, but the parts that are in English are not very helpful.

I found a CD from them on Amazon titled Romantic Vienna and it is another one of those digitally remastered recordings from Essential Media Group that is made from an old vinyl LP record. They never give the date of the original recording nor do they give us any liner notes. I went back to the web and searched again and found three other versions of this same recording with different covers and titles but with the same song listings.

The sound quality is not, of course, like modern recordings. It’s flat but at least they took out any static and background hiss. The quality of the singing, on the other hand, is very good and after awhile I stopped noticing the lack of depth. These boys sound very young and very well trained. If you like Strauss Waltzes, and who doesn’t, I think you’ll find yourself smiling at this CD. There are 19 songs starting with the 1001 Night Waltz and ending with the Zappert Polka. I love Vienna, City of My Dreams.
On all of the songs they are backed up by a great orchestra.

Now, what I do know about Sangerknaben Vom Wienerwald is this: They start training at age 6 or 7 at the choir school at the Mission House of Saint Gabriel, founded in 1921.

The boys sing church music at the high holidays in St. Gabriel and also provide 50 concert performances during the school year. The highlight of the year is the 3-5-week concert tour in the summer months.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jesus College

Last weekend my neighbor, who lives across the creek, parked his truck in line with the front of my house and turned up his radio really loud. He opened the door so the racket was aimed directly at me. I don’t know if he was trying to make a point or if he was just an idiot. As long as I kept my doors and windows closed I could barely hear it but when I went outside the din was just annoying. I needed to do some shopping so as I left I put in a CD of Libera’s Sanctus and cranked that volume up to 35. Then I rolled down the window as I slowly proceeded up my driveway. I never heard another peep out of him all weekend.


There must be something in the water in Cambridge, England that makes people want to sing, and sing well. I have looked at different directories of choirs for that area and none of them are comprehensive, but they list a lot of groups. Of course, boy choirs are what we really want to know about and as far as I can tell there are three major ones. We all know about King’s College and St. John’s College, but I was surprised to find out recently about another choir that is truly wonderful.
The Chapel Choir of Jesus College has a CD titled Sweet Spirit Comfort Me and I’ve been wearing it out. This has everything I like in a boy’s choir, good, clear trebles with notes that soar high, pretty tunes and a cohesive sound. These boys are really good.
The singing is accompanied by soft organ music that adds to the voices without trying to dominate them.

I really love all of the songs on this CD and I’m listing them here. I especially adore tracks 1 and 7. They’re achingly beautiful. Tracks 8 and 14 are organ solos.

1. A Song of Peace: Charles Villiers Stanford
2. Ubi Caritas: Simon Lole
Messe Basse 4 Movements: Gabriel Fauré
3. Kyrie
4. Sanctus
5. Benedictus
6. Agnus Dei
7. The Father's Love: Simon Lole
8. Andante in G: Charles Macpherson
9. Balulalow: Peter Warlock
10. What Songs Are These?: Richard Lloyd
11. Who can express the noble acts of the Lord?: Samuel Sebastian Wesley
12. I waited for the Lord: Felix Mendelssohn
13. Ex ore innocentium: John Ireland
14. Chorale Prelude on 'Eventide': Charles Hubert Hastings Parry
15. Magnificat in C: Christopher Robinson
16. Nunc Dimittis in C: Christopher Robinson
17. Ave Verum: Sir Edward Elgar
18. Litany to the Holy Spirit: Peter Hurford
19. Praise and Glory: Rory Boyle

The all-male choir is one of only three College choirs of its kind in Cambridge, and is highly regarded. Unlike the others (at King's and St John's) it recruits trebles from local schools rather than maintaining a choir school. They sing two of the four choral evensongs per week as well as Eucharists.
The Chapel Choir is made up of boy choristers and adult male singers while the College Choir has female undergraduates so if you are a purist (like me) who doesn’t like to mix sopranos and trebles be careful when ordering music.

On their web page they list the Choristers’ Code which I like a lot.
The Choristers' Code
When boys are admitted to the choir, it is understood that they will abide by the following rules:-
1. Support, help and praise all other choristers.
2. Respect and listen to the adults who are in charge, and do what’s asked, when it’s asked. This includes no talking or disruption during a rehearsal or service.
3. Report any bullying to an adult, always.
4. Respect and listen to the advice and instructions of the Head and Deputy Choristers.
5. Be kind and helpful to younger boys.
6. Co-operate when older boys are trying to teach and help younger ones.
7. Share food and drink, ensuring there’s enough to go round.
8. Make sure that no one is feeling left out.
9. Look after cassocks and surplices; always hang them up on your own hanger, tidily.
10. Be responsible for (and clear away) own mess.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don’t you love it when you hear a song that somehow moves you and you look to see who the artist is and that leads you to a great CD?

I heard one called, appropriately enough, A New Song, and I liked it so much I had to hear it more so I tracked it down (it wasn’t hard to do) and found out that it’s on the 2008 CD My Beloved Spake by the Winchester College Chapel Choir, or Winchester College Quiristers.

Selection number 8, A New Song, was composed by James MacMillan in 1997 and it’s a unique piece with these wonderful vocal flourishes that I won‘t even try to describe. It starts with the trebles and builds in intensity until it ends with a powerful bit of organ work.

Other pieces (I’m not supposed to call them songs) that I recognize and like are A Grateful Heart by Mary Plumstead, the German version of Brahms’ How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings, William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus and They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships by Herbert Sumsion (…and stagger like a drunken, stagger like a drunken, stagger like a drunken man...).
The title piece, My Beloved Spake, by Hadley takes its verses from The Song of Solomon and it’s very pretty.
There are 15 cuts on this CD and they are kind enough to give us the lyrics and a short paragraph about each piece.

One thing I really like about this album is that, unlike too many other choral CD’s such as the ones from Downside Abby, the trebles are given the spotlight with the other voices playing a supporting role.
Just like the violins are the heart of the orchestra, so I believe that the treble voices are the heart of the choir. The altos and basses are there to bring fullness and drama to the overall sound but it’s the trebles that give us goose bumps.

There is a fun video on their web site that features the choristers going about their daily prep school lives and practicing their singing.
Here’s a link:

Also, I lifted this from BCSD:
“Founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and twice Chancellor of England, Winchester College is one of the oldest and best-known schools in Great Britain. Wykeham's original foundation included 70 scholars, and although the school has now grown tenfold in size, the same number of scholars continues to live in medieval chambers next to the College Hall and Chapel. Wykeham also made provision for 16 singing-boys called Quiristers, whose duty was to sing at Chapel services.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Do you remember an old movie called The Bishop’s Wife? Not the more modern version with Denzel Washington but the black and white version with Cary Grant and Loretta Young. It’s been years since I’ve seen it but I still remember the boys choir and how they showed up for practice and sounded great. They were just regular guys, street tough and sassy, but when they sang they seemed transformed.

Anyway, that was the Mitchell Boys Choir. They were a famous group that began in 1934 and were in lots of films, sometimes appearing as a choir and other times just on the soundtrack. Another famous film was Angels with Dirty Faces and they can be heard in White Christmas, Going My Way, Yankee Doodle Dandy and a lot more.
Someone turned me on to one of their songs so I ordered the CD The Mitchell Boys Choir Sings. This is an oldie that has been remastered from the original but it sounds pretty good, just a little fuzzy. It’s too bad that this reproduction doesn’t say anything about the date of the original recording because I would really like to know. By the haircuts I would guess it to be from the early ‘60s.

The songs are pretty corny, the sort of thing that Aunt Bea would have liked back in Mayberry. It opens with an Italian song Come Back to Sorrento and goes on to The Happy Wanderer (Val-deri,Val-dera), Oh, What a Beautiful Morning and That’s an Irish Lullaby.
Appropriately for Mother’s Day there is That Wonderful Mother of Mine.
The song I like best is When You Wish Upon a Star, from Disney’s Pinocchio. They sing it with that old fashion warbling falsetto that you hear in other Disney music like the songs from Snow White. I smile whenever I hear it.

“Bob Mitchell was a musical prodigy who got his start as a 12-year-old in 1924 playing the organ at the Strand Theater in Pasadena for silent movies… Mitchell and the choir were featured in a special short documentary film, Forty Boys and a Song (1941), which described the choir and showed the students rehearsing at their school desks as Mitchell provided instruction. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Short Subject, One-reel).”

His boy’s choir also recorded with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and he received several illustrious honors including a Silver Medal from Princess Grace (Kelly) of Monaco, a Medal from the Pope and the Boy Scouts of America.
The group was also known by other names such as the St. Brendan's Boy's Choir, St. Brendan's Church Choir and the Mitchell Choirboys.

Robert Mitchell died on July 4, 2009.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Downside Abbey

I don’t know if anyone is still interested in this blog since I seemed to have abandoned it. I hope you are. I usually try to not talk about me except as it relates to my experience with this music but I do want to quickly say that I have lost 5 pounds and my garden is growing nicely. I think I have averted the looming need to buy larger trousers so I don’t feel guilty about sitting down again to write a bit.

It’s been a couple of years since I stumbled into this ancient and mysterious world of boy choir music and began an exploration that has been both satisfying and fun. When I started blogging about it I was pretty ignorant. I still am, but maybe a little less so than before. Some very nice people helped me learn a lot with their comments and explanations of things with which I had no experience. Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface and that is why I laugh when I look back at some earlier posts and see how opinionated and downright cheeky I sounded at times. I have decided to revisit some of the albums that I was critical of to see if they look better now.

I had a pretty tepid response to the 1997 CD Gregorian Moods by the Monks and Choirboys of Downside Abbey so I listened again and… I love it. In fact, I like it so much that I ordered their previous 1996 CD The Abbey. What I failed to notice before is the smooth and cohesive singing from this choir. It puts me in mind of a pipe organ, each voice like a pipe, each unique but made of the same metal, all one unit.

I really like the cathedral echo in every piece that makes me feel as if I have traveled back in time, taking refuge inside the walls of cool stone to let the magic voices lift my spirit. There really is something magical about it all.

Most of the pieces are plainchant, such as Ave Maris Stella, Viderunt Omnes and Sub Tuum Praesidium. They are alternated with pieces by Byrd, Charles Wood, Gabrieli and others. Most are sung by men’s voices but the best ones include the boys. I stand by my original statement that there should be fewer monks and more choirboys, but the men do sound magnificent.

It seems odd that there are only these two recordings from the Monks and Choirboys of Downside Abbey. I’ve been to their web shop and there are no others except for a couple of CD’s of organ music and another choir of some sort. They do have the section called Ask A Monk so maybe I’ll ask them to do something new.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

High up in the Swiss Alps, tucked into a remote valley, is the monastery of Saint Bernard. The roads up the mountain are only open for a short time each summer and access to the monastery requires dogged determination, but in spite of their isolation the monastery manages to maintain a well known choir.

The Choir of Saint Bernard’s has met with howling success all around the world.

Their latest CD is a compilation of popular tunes like How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Puppy Love, and Who Let The Dogs Out.

Their previous mega-hit album was a collection of Pooch-ini arias.

The choir has toured extensively and received lots of favorable reviews. However, there was the one unfortunate incident that occurred on their last tour to New York when their musical director, showing very poor judgment, took them to see a musical play, Cats.

Okay, obviously that was my tribute to April 1st. I’m afraid I haven’t been very good about posting lately and that is due largely to my doctor’s orders that I spend less time on the internet. Since my operation I’ve put on weight and now that winter is past and the weather is getting wonderfully inviting I’ve decided to limit my internet time to one half hour per day. I’m going to be out in the yard and garden as much as possible and getting off my… chair.
I’ll still be posting now and then, whenever I find something I really like so check back.

Also, I had planned to visit Washington DC on April 18th to see the Choir of New College, Oxford and the Choir of St. Thomas, New York who will be doing a concert at the National Cathedral. Something has come up and I won’t be able to make it so I have a ticket that I will give to anyone who would like it, no charge. It’s a shame to let it go to waste so if you think you could use it, let me know. It’s general admission and is sure to be a great show.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


For the past several days I’ve been listening to Libera’s new CD Peace and I’ve been trying to figure out just what I think about it. I hate to say it, but it’s not my favorite Libera album. It’s nice, of course, very nice and pretty. It has those special Libera harmonies that we all love. The music and the singing are both just great.

I guess it’s just that none of the songs really stand out from the others. Even though I’ve played it a dozen times I still can only name a couple of them. All of the songs have a similar, slow tempo, which I suppose is intended to make us feel peaceful, like the title says.
I expected a few dramatic choruses like in Far Away or You Were There. It would have been nice to hear something powerful like Sanctus or a fun song like Orinoco Flow.

My favorite song is Exsultate which is an Irish sounding tune by Ben Philipp. He handles the bouncing rhythms like a pro.
Daniel Fontannaz sings a good version of Panis Angelicus.
I’m sure everyone has heard Sanctissima by now so you know how pretty it is. The others are similar.

As I said, all of the songs are pretty and it’s fun to hear the new boys getting a turn in the spotlight. There are new soloists but Josh, Tom and Ben are still going strong, too.
One interesting thing about the CD is seeing who is no longer listed as being part of Libera. The Cole brothers are gone and so is Zac Lockett, Joe Snelling and Michael V.
There are 26 choristers shown on the back side of the folding liner notes and their names are listed inside but I have no idea which boy is which. I think we need another DVD so they can introduce themselves again.

This is another Opendisc CD from EMI and it is supposed to give us access to other Libera information but my six-year-old computer won’t connect to it. My office computer tries to but the company filters prevent it. Maybe something there identifies the new boys. I suppose I’ll never know.

I'm sure everyong has their copy by now but in case someone doesn't,  buy the CD and support Libera. You’ll like it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Toronto Boys Choir

Springtime is coming fast and I’m ready. I volunteered again with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization and everything has been approved so now I’m just waiting for them to find a little friend for me.

I’ve already got a lot of outings planned, like the aquarium, picnics in the mountains, the amusement park and stuff like that. It’s going to be so much more fun with a boy along to laugh with me.

The way things are today he will probably be into rap music but I have a plan to steer him in a more classical direction. I have a new CD called Mr. Bach Comes to Call. It’s part of a series of CD’s for kids that includes “Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery”, “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” and “Mozart’s Magical Voyage”. There are several other CD‘s, as well.

The Bach one starts out with the NASA technician counting down the first Voyager launch, the first of two where they sent a craft into space carrying information about the Earth and it’s people. Besides the many pictures there was music, including several pieces by Bach.

On this CD a young girl is bored by practicing the piano so Bach magically appears and gives her some encouragement and demonstrations. He brings along some choir boys from the Toronto Boys Choir.
Bach talks about his life, his music and his family in a very interesting way and introduces her to some of his most popular music.
The boys are charming and it’s fun to hear them talk but they only sing one song and that’s the last one, “We Hasten, Cantata #78”. They do it so well it makes me want to hear more.

I can’t find out much about this choir and I have to assume that they have disbanded, which is too bad.

BCSD lists two albums, the Toronto Boys Choir, Volume 2 (1976) and the Toronto Boys Choir, Volume 3 (1979). They were founded in 1976 so it seems odd that there would be a Volume 1 and Volume 2 in the same year but it must so. Both of these albums are Jewish music and I would have to guess that Volume 1 was, also.

Interestingly, there is another album shown, “The Toronto Boys Choir-The Hanson Singers”, which is a traditional Christmas album.

I did find a website whose writer reports hearing from a former member of this choir and who says that some of the boys suffered abuse at the hands of Ned Hanson, who is now deceased.

All that BCSD has to say about them is this. “The Toronto Boys Choir, founded in 1976, allows boys to participate in a variety musical experiences, ranging from the most demanding classical repertoir and specially commissioned new works to cameo roles in SCTV and MGM movie production in Toronto.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dresdner Kreuzchor

I knew I would have something better to write about. I do hate having negative things to say about choirs and CD’s so this post is more upbeat.

This 2005 CD is by that famous German choir, Der Dresdner Kreuzchor, and it’s called “Volkslieder” (folksongs), which is great for people who enjoy folk music, like me. There are 25 songs and many of them are quite short. One is only 61 seconds.

I want to quote a little something from the liner notes, “People kit themselves out with surround sound in their living rooms, CD and radio in their cars, MP3 players as they walk about, to be fed with synthetic sounds and perfect orchestral balance. Where can we find space for the original popular song, invented a long time ago, somewhere else and in some seemingly distant context, simply passed on from one singer to the next? More to the point: who can still sing such a song?”

The answer to that last question is Der Dresdner Kreuzchor. The writers go on to talk about the lyrics but the lyrics don’t mean much to those of us who don’t speak German. All of these songs are in German and are sung without instrumental accompaniment and it doesn’t matter at all. They are still really nice. I even recognized a couple of them, “Feinsliebchen” and “Der Mond ist Afugegangen”.

There are deeper, more mature voices on this CD but they are kept in the background, which is as it should be. The focus is on the treble voices. Altogether it’s a very rich sound and a lot of fun to listen to and another good thing about it is that, because it’s in German, I can’t sing along and ruin it.

The Dresdner Kreuzchor is from Dresden, Germany and goes back more than seven hundred years which makes it one of the oldest boys' choirs in Europe. It was founded as a school for Latin at the present Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross).
The choir has 150 members between the ages of 9 and 19. They perform mostly as a mixed boys' and men's choir, the number of singers depending on the works being performed. For guest performances, about 80 singers go on tour. Most of the boys live in a boarding school.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Back at last

I hope you haven’t given up on me. Finally the big project at work is over and out the door. We had to work for three weeks without a day off and anywhere from ten to fourteen hours each day. I was exhausted.

Now I have the time to get back to the things I enjoy, like blogging, but there is another little problem. I don’t have any good music to write about. I’ve been listening to the CD’s that I received at Christmas and frankly many of them are sort of boring. I found these CD’s on Amazon and I had to search a lot to find music by groups that I don’t already have in my collection, because I like to sample new music. Unfortunately there isn’t always a good selection and I’ve wound up with some that I just don’t enjoy very much.

Two albums in particular have let me down. The first is one that I suspected I wouldn’t like but I decided to give it a try anyway. It’s the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys album “Most Sacred Banquet”, and the selections here are just too high-toned for my taste. I’m probably being cynical when I say this, but sometimes I think that choir directors choose music only to show that they have sophisticated tastes. Unfortunately, I’m not sophisticated enough so Poulenc’s “Exultate Deo” and Messiaen’s “O Sacrum Convivium” make me yawn. I find it hard to pay attention to Tournemire’s “Cinq Improvisations for Organ” without becoming distracted by my surroundings.

The second CD is “Favorites From the Past” by the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. This is a live recording that would have benefited from some studio polishing. It sounds like the soloists are standing too far from the microphone and some songs like “God Bless America” and “My Country Tis of Thee” seem sort of unmelodic. “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” is an old spiritual but here it’s lacking soul. “Philadelphia Pride” on the other hand is very nicely done so maybe show tunes are a better choice for this director.

I have to emphasize that there is nothing at all wrong with the singing on either of these albums. The boys are very talented and professional and they sound like violins. I fault the directors and arrangers.

However, don’t take my word for it. These may be the most wonderful albums in the world and the problem may be that I’m just tired. I prefer pretty music and I don’t hear it here.

The good news is that I’ve got new stuff coming in the next day or two so I will be posting something fun and interesting very shortly.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Good Year

We are nearing the end of a major project at work and I 've been stuck with a lot of overtime every day and no days off. I'm only mentioning it to explain the lack of posts lately. I usually try to upload something every 3 or 4 days and I'm behind. Anyway, this is a special one.

February 14th is my one year anniversary of blogging. It’s appropriate because it’s Valentine’s day and I love boy choirs (in a perfectly wholesome and appropriate way, of course).

When I began this blog I didn’t really know much about this music but I’ve learned some things this year, both by researching and with the help of kind readers.

Also, I have collected a lot of CD’s this year and I’ve noticed that there are some albums that I listen to more than others so I thought I would offer my top ten list of CD’s. This is not a value judgment, I’m not saying that one choir or one album is better than the rest. This is only a list of the ones that I find that I play the most often. In no particular order:

1. Angel Voices - Libera (2006)
    A classic recording that won them tons of new fans all over the world

2. Hymn - The American Boychoir (1995)
    Some of the prettiest singing I have ever heard.

3. Heavenly Voices - The Boys of King’s College Choir, Cambridge (2004)
    A very powerful and dynamic album

4. Ave Maria - The Vienna Boys Choir (1998)
    This shows why this choir is the most famous choir in the world

5. Dennis and Polskie Slowiki (2001)
    This boy had one of the greatest voices of our time

6. Requiem - Boys Air Choir  (1997)
    Very haunting

7. Agnus Dei, Music of Inner Harmony - The Choir of New College, Oxford (1996)
    It’s what you would expect angels to sound like

8. Will Your Anchor Hold? - Ely Cathedral Choir (1999)
    A fun and touching collection of music

9. Favorite Hymns - The Choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury (2001)
    Very moving and sweet

10. Les Choristes en Concert - Les Petits Chanteurs de St Marc (2005)
      It’s got girls in it but Jean Baptiste Maunier makes up for it

11. The Sublime Treble Voice of James Rainbird - James Rainbird (1987)
      I’m still in love with his voice

Okay, so I couldn’t stop at ten. I could have mentioned the Yeshiva Boys Choir and a few more. It's all good.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writer's Block

I have been working on a post for a popular choir and it has turned out to be too much work. I finally realized it's because I really don't care much for this CD. Since I can't say something nice I won't say anything about it at this time. Maybe it's a lovely CD and it's my mood that's making it seem unlikable. Maybe I'll like it better at another time so I'll save it. The name will be secret for now in case I hurt someone's feelings.

I've been putting in a lot of overtime at the office for the past week and that has really gotten in the way of my writing, but I have a special post that is almost ready.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to mention this. The Pacific Boychoir took home a Grammy award this year for their participation in the recording of "Mahler: Symphony No.8; Adagio From Symphony No. 10". Two other choirs shared the award, The San Francisco Girls Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

Their competition included the Chattanooga Boys Choir who sang on the recording "Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortileges".

So it was a pretty big year for boy choirs. That’s really encouraging and I would like to give a big cheer for both of them.
I'll be back in a day or two.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Palestrina Choir

I would like to be like Ebenezer Scrooge after his transformation. Dickens said of Scrooge, “he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge”. I would like to keep it well too, and keep it all year long.

And that’s my excuse this time for plugging another Christmas CD.

Tonight I’m listening to Christmas with The Palestrina Choir. They are, for some reason, the only Irish choir whose album I have. The Palestrina Choir is from Dublin and from the pictures I have to say they are about the cutest choir I’ve ever seen with their big smiles and blue cassocks.

This CD has twenty-five carols and even though many of them are standard Christmas fare they are done with unique arrangements that make them refreshingly different. I Saw Ships is really nice and original.

It’s always fun for me to hear songs sung in Irish and there are some here. Traditional Irish songs like Suantrai na Maighdine (The Virgin Mary’s Lullaby) and Oiche Nollag (Christmas Night) and a few others. I’m glad they included the translations of the titles and lyrics in the CD booklet. It’s fun to read along.

They have a charming soloist named Christopher Graham, who was 13 and had been with the choir for 7 years when the CD was recorded in 2008.
For music they have David Grealy on the organ and Andreja Malir playing the harp. It’s all very beautiful.

I haven’t found anything about the name of the choir but I assume that they take it from the composer Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina whose sacred works had such an influence on Catholic church music.

The choir is from Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and that term confused me. I finally found out that it just means “acting” cathedral. It seems that Dublin has two cathedrals but neither is Catholic, both are Church of Ireland.
I’m still not clear on all of it but it doesn’t matter to me. The music is what I care about and this music is great. I’m going to try and get their other CD The Bells Of the Angelus.

One little bit of humor that I noticed on the album cover is that there is a robin sitting atop the word Christmas and he’s all puffed up to sing. He doesn’t see the snowball that the artist has drawn flying straight at him. Those boys.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Boys of St Thomas

Somehow I wound up with several new Christmas CD’s during the holidays and I suppose I could put them aside until next December rolls around or I could just go ahead and talk about them now.

Oh, why wait?

This one is from a very famous choir, Thomanerchor Leipzig, and it’s titled Weihnachtssingen der Thomaner, which just means Christmas With the Boy Choristers of St Thomas.
The good thing is that with only a couple of exceptions these songs are not particularly Christmasy to me. The titles and lyrics are in German so the only ones I recognize are Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht and In Dulci Jubilo (oh, I suppose that one is in Latin). The other songs have titles like Macht Hoch Die Tur by Max Reger, Ubers Gebirg Maria Geht by Johann Eccard, and Aus Hartem Weh Op.7a by Willy Sendt.

I don’t “sprechen sie Deutsch” but I get the feeling that none of those are translations of Jingle Bell Rock so I can’t really say much about the songs except that they are really pretty.
The first piece and the last, Gelaut Der Thomaskirche Zu Leipzig, consist of the warm tones of the bells of St. Thomas church. Very nice.

The boys and young men sing without accompaniment, and they sound great. Interestingly, there are three numbers that are organ only without voices, and they are also very pretty.

There are 23 songs but at a total time of 49 minutes the CD is over too quickly.

Thomanerchor Leipzig has been around for almost 800 years. They were closely associated with Johann Sebastian Bach but had been in existance for a long time when Bach came along as music director. In the year 1212 Otto IV confirmed the foundation of an Augustiner monastery dedicated to St.Thomas. The monastery included a school to prepare youngsters for a clerical career, to which boys from outside the monastery were also admitted. From the beginning, singing for the liturgy was part of the education.
In the last century alone, the school has survived two World Wars, and the Communist regime, which permitted many of its ancient traditions to continue, unbroken.

The children get up at six in the morning, have several hours of choir practice every day, as well as individual singing and instrumental lessons and, of course, ordinary school lessons. For concerts they always dress in the tradition dark-blue sailor-style uniforms.
I love this bit from BCSD, “Scruffiness is strictly prohibited. The smaller boys are inspected to make sure that their fingernails are not dirty and nothing is bulging out of their pockets.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Choral Evensong

 I wonder how many people, like me, enjoy Anglican cathedral music but have never been to a service? I’m not really a church-going type of Christian. When I was a child I had to go to a church where an old man pounded his fist, stomped his feet and screamed that we were all going to burn in Hell forever. I used to hide under my mother’s arm and cry. My later experiences did little to let me see church as a ‘feel good’ experience so I drifted away from organized religion and developed my own ideas and moral code.

Now, Sunday mornings usually find me praying to Saint Mattress, but if there was a cathedral with a boys choir near here I would certainly attend Evensong services. I suppose it‘s okay to go just to hear the singing.
It would be good to know what the services are about, though, so in case I ever get there I decided to learn something about Evensong services.

For a great many of us Evensong has not been a part of our experience so I would like to say a little about it in case others may be curious too. My research source is the internet, not direct experience, so Anglicans may laugh if I goof anything up.

Evening prayer is celebrated in the late afternoon or evening and is commonly known as Evensong, especially when it is sung. The Catholics have something similar called Vespers.
The service usually, but not always, consists of these elements:
An introduction, including a confession and the Lord’s Prayer.
Preces - a series of verses and responses
One or more Psalms
Two readings from the Bible followed by the Magnificat (Latin for Magnify, Stanford’s Magnificate in G is my favorite) and Nunc Dimittis (also called the Song of Simeon from Luke 2:29–32, named after its first words in Latin. It starts out, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace according to your word.”)
Then the Apostles Creed, a chant which starts “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”
Then several prayers and responses, an anthem and some spoken prayers.
One thing you will hear often in Evensong is the Gloria Patri, that verse that says, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” I hear that on a lot of the Anglican hymns that I have.

I picked up a CD titled Choral Evensong From Tewkesbury Abbey that I like. When it was announced that the Abbey School would close, they decided that a CD should be recorded of the Evensong service which the choir had sung four times a week for the last thirty two years. I recommend ear phones for this one in order to have a more intimate experience.

The service opens with Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament, a truly great organ piece, and then Sancte Deus by Tallis.
Psalm 91 by Alcock and Psalm 131 by Peterson are followed by Gabriel Jackson’s Magnificat and his Nunc Dimittis which are both stunning.
The hymn is The Day Thou Gavest by St. Clement, Descant: John Scott.

It goes without saying that the singing is magnificent all the way through this CD. There is a list of choristers in the liner notes and near the bottom of the trebles is Andrew Swait.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Music as Meditation

I once took classes in Transcendental Meditation at a TM center in Atlanta and I was surprised at just how well it works. After only a few tries I was able to get into a very still, peaceful place inside my mind. With practice I found I could stay there for longer periods.
I practiced it daily for a while but then somehow life sort of got in the way and I had less and less time to devote to it. I grew rusty, but I still remember my mantra.

For the past year or so I’ve been working on my own form of TM that involves boy choir music. Here’s how it works.

Find some time to be alone, just you and your stereo or your iPod. Take off your shoes and lie on the sofa or bed, or sink into your favorite chair with your feet up.
Turn on your favorite boy choir. Maybe you’re in the mood for some classical music from the Vienna Boys or some spiritual pop from Libera. Some hymns from the American Boychoir would be nice or, my favorite, that ambient, ethereal music on the album ‘Agnus Dei, Music of Inner Harmony’ from the Choir of New College, Oxford. It works with all sorts of boy choir music (although, I doubt it would be very effective with country or rap).

Now, close your eyes and relax. Free your spirit; clear your mind of all thoughts. Just hear the music, follow the music, but don’t think about the music, just go with it. Go like a boat on the ocean, like a kite on the wind, let it bear you aloft, feel the movement, the sensations.

The song is a stream that wants to carry you along through swift water and still pools. The voices are the sunlight that sparkles and dazzles your eyes, they are the deep, dark shadows that lure you with their mystery, they are the rhythmic ripples that form patterns around you. Float along freely, and don’t be afraid when you feel the music touching your very soul with its soft, cool fingers.

If you find that stray thoughts are trying to intrude just ignore them and switch your focus back to the music. Eventually it will become easier to do. Don’t go to sleep now. Just hear the music and drift along, letting your mind sink deeper like a rock in a pond seeking the bottom.

This is the way to enlightenment, my children. Now… send me all your money.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I’ve mentioned before that I like the Yeshiva Boys’ Choir so I thought I would check out a couple of other Jewish choirs and see how they stack up. I don’t mean to critique these choirs, I’m not enough of an authority to give a meaningful review, but I did want to just briefly describe their music.

Now what I know about Jewish music is what I learned from the movies and television, two sources that usually have little to do with reality. The Miami Boys Choir has a 1993 CD, The 3rd Annual Miami Experience, that may or may not be representative of their other music. They have tons of recordings but I really didn’t care for this one at all.

The blurb in the liner notes says, “Remember ‘Modeh Ani’ and ‘Shsulim’? Remember ‘Horeini’?” Well, of course I don’t remember those songs but if they sound like the rest of the stuff on this album I don’t think I missed much.
Listening to these songs was like being at a Jewish wedding (the ones I’ve seen on TV) where people dance in a circle to old eastern European music, the kind that has an accordion in the band. It’s a music that’s enjoyed by a great many people but it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
Usually I can focus on the boys’ voices, which I will admit are fine, and overlook everything else, but this was too much for me to handle.

Then I moved on to the mystery choir, The Shaleves Boys’ Choir and their 2002 recording Precious Tears. I call them a mystery choir because I haven’t been able to find out anything about them. The liner notes list the songs and the choir members but there is nothing about the choir itself. Where are they from? Why are there no pictures? How long have they been around? What does Shaleves mean? I searched the internet and came up blank on this one. The only interesting thing I see is that they have a list of people whom they say ‘special thanks to’ and Yossi Newman (presumably from the Yeshiva Boy’s Choir) is mentioned.

The music is nice, more modern and pop than the Miami album and, for me, much more listenable. The songs are in Hebrew except for the title song, Precious Tears, which is in English and seems to refer to Israel, “A nation on her own in this world she stands alone, danger and fear from all sides…”.
The boys sing wonderfully well and probably put on a good show.

Still, for my money, I prefer the Yeshiva kids. Their songs are just prettier, their singing happier

Here’s a bit about the Miami Boys’ Choir: “Formed in 1977 in Miami Beach, Florida, by Yerachmiel Begun, the Miami Boys Choir was part of a larger surge in popularity of Jewish choral music. Made up of Orthodox boys from the Miami area, the choir began recording and performing almost immediately.
After releasing the first few albums, Begun moved MBC to Manhattan although he retained the "Miami" in the name of the group. After its move to New York, the Miami Boys Choir has released a new album nearly every year with boys primarily coming from the New York area.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The Boy Choir and Soloist Directory is closing down on the 19th of this month. That’s a bigger disaster for me than losing the Boys’ Choir of Harlem.

Who am I going to plagiarize, I mean borrow, information from now?


One CD that I wanted to get for quite a while is Andrew Swait’s Song’s of Innocence, but I held back because I read an unflattering review of it. I shouldn’t have worried though, because I knew that Swait has an outstanding voice and talent. He couldn’t do anything bad, nor has he.

I’ll admit, this CD is a little different than the music I’m accustomed to hearing from boys. It’s more sophisticated in its style and song selections, but I like it.

This is another of those albums that deserve to be listened to quietly, without distractions, so the vocals can be savored and studied. Andrew’s voice has changed a bit since his previous year’s Choirboys CD, The Carols Album. The treble quality is still in full force and now it’s richer, more refined. Obviously he’s been studying hard and learning, it’s paying off nicely.

Swait’s voice is not the only one on here. James Bowman, the famous counter-tenor, sings duet with him on several numbers and his voice is a lot like Andrew’s, only more mature. They weave a pretty tapestry together.

I thought that the title, Songs of Innocence, may have been taken from William Blake’s book by the same name and because both have a “Cradle Song”, but then I saw that the words were different so I guess I was wrong.

The liner notes don’t mention Blake at all. They are pretty thorough in mentioning everyone else, though. There is a ton of useful and interesting information in the booklet about Britten, Barber, Ives and other great composers. There are 25 songs and only a few were familiar to me.

One really interesting thing is that they feature some songs by Britten that have not been recorded before, such as The Owl, Witches’ Song and The Rainbow, written when the composer was only a little older than Andrew Swait.

I won’t go into the songs much (the list can be found on the internet) except to say that I really like The Slow Train by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. The melody is pretty and a couple of verses are spoken instead of sung, like a conductor announcing the stations. It’s fun.

Also I should add that the music on this CD is by pianist Andrew Plant and is quite excellent.

Andrew Swait began his musical training at a very early age and at 6 he went to the Abbey School, Tewkesbury. “At 7 he became one of the youngest to receive a surplice at the final initiation by Michael Tavener (then Vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey) of probationers into the choir.”

He also plays piano and cello. What a kid.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Good Idea

I would like to think that the success of Libera shows that the public’s interest in boy choir music is growing. All of the concerts I have been to have been standing room only and that includes some pretty big spaces so it seems that there must be a lot of fans out there. I hope it all means that we will have boy choirs to mesmerize us for years to come.

If you scroll down on this page you’ll notice that since I installed the stat counter last year we have had over 10,000 visits and that’s not bad for a small, amateur blog. I take it as another encouraging sign of hope for the future.

Did you know that BCSD, the Boy Choir and Soloist Directory, lists 817 boy choirs from around the world? And that’s not all of them. I wish I could hear each and every one of those choirs and have Cds in my collection from them all, but it’s hopeless. I suppose one could begin alphabetically and attempt to gather them up. It would take a long time and a lot of money. There are 44 choirs that begin with “A” and I only have three of them, The Abbey School at Tewkesbury, the American Boychoir and the Atlanta Boy Choir.

Following that path I might never get to Zwettler Sangerknaben and Zwols Jongenskoor.
So far, I’ve taken a shotgun approach to my collecting, usually not aiming at a particular target and just picking up whatever comes near. Unless it’s a choir like Libera or the American Boychoir and then I search for specific albums.

Although Amazon has been my main source for music, they usually make me wade through the same pages every time I want to see what’s available and that can take a lot of time.
I’ve considered buying from each choir’s shop but so many of them don’t have English translations of their web pages and my foreign language skills are poor so that cuts out a lot of choirs. Also a lot of them don’t seem to have shops at all.

What we really need is a central clearing house that specializes in boy choir and boy soloist music. We need a catalogue, especially of the new releases from choirs everywhere. So I’m asking for volunteers, people who know about business and the internet and who are multi-lingual and who enjoy this sort of music. A person like that shouldn’t be too hard to find so step up and let’s get something going. Who's with me?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pie Jesu

A friend recently pointed out that there are different versions of Pie Jesu by different composers, a fact I should have known, but I just didn‘t really think about it. I knew that I had other Pie Jesu versions that sounded different but for some reason I assumed that the music directors were just playing with the arrangements. Sometimes I don’t pay attention. When I took a closer look at my collection I immediately saw the differences.

Some of the ones I have are Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu by Solvguttne and The Choirboys; John Rutter’s version by Anthony Way and Dara Carroll, Faure’s arrangement by St. John’s College, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Polski Slowiki and others. St. John’s College has one by Lili Boulanger.

The single best CD for this motet is Requiem by the Boys Air Choir who give us versions by John Rutter, Gabriel Fauré, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Maurice Duruflé so it’s easy to compare them. I’ve said before that this is one of the very best Cd’s I have.

There are more Pie Jesu compositions out there, too but after re-listening to all that I have of them I have to say that while I love them all I really find Rutter’s version the most moving, especially when Connor Burrowes sings it. I think it’s the way the choir responds after each verse and that long high note in the second verse that thrills me.

I’ll quote a little something from Wikipedia here, “Pie Jesu is a motet derived from the final couplet of the Dies Irae and often included in musical settings of the Requiem Mass. …The best known is the Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem; Camille Saint-Saëns said of it, ‘just as Mozart’s is the only Ave Verum Corpus, this is the only Pie Jesu‘.”

The funny thing about that is that Saint-Saëns died in 1921 so he would never have heard the great works by Rutter, Webber and Duruflé. If he had, he would have said the same thing I did, that John Rutter’s Pie Jesu, sung by Connor Burrowes, is totally awesome.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

There is a town 52 Km south of Munich Germany called Bad Tölz . Oddly there doesn’t seem to be a Good Tölz anywhere on the map, but there is something really good that comes from Bad Tölz and that is Der Tölzer Knabenchor.

This CD (that Santa brought) Halleluja - Festliche Musik, appears to be a re-release of a 1972 album and it has a marvelous soloist by the name of Hans Buchhierl. The songs on here are popular classical standards from Handel, Bach, Haydn Mozart, etc and they are wonderful renditions.

In the movie Shrek there is a scene where princess Fiona is singing in the forest with a bluebird who tries to match her increasingly high notes until it finally explodes. I often think of that scene when I hear Hallelujah by Handel. You know the part where the boys sing “King of Kings… and Lord of Lords,” then they sing it again even higher and a third time going higher still and holding it. Amazing. This CD opens with that song and the boys really do reach the heights.

You should hear Hans Buchhierl on the second song, Ombra Mai Fu, also by Handel. It is such a moving melody and his voice is like crystal, clear and lovely even when he reaches down for some lower notes. Hans has some delightfully surprising nuance and skill in his singing.

Besides Ave Maria (Bach), Panis Angelicus and Ave Verum Corpus, I was familiar with most of the songs here even though I didn’t recognize their German names.

Tölzer Knabenchor is one of the great choirs of the world with an almost unbelievable number of recordings.
I’ll be listening to this CD a lot.

Once again I lifted a bit of information about the choir from BCSD: “In 1956... Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden founded the Tölzer Knabenchor in Bad Tölz. The wide musical range of the choir encloses vocal music of the Middle Ages up to modernity. Since 1970, there is a section in Munich with its own studio in Munich-Solln. At the moment, nearly 80% of the choir members come from Munich, although Bad Tölz remains an important center. The universal training of the choir members is based on the discipline accepted voluntarily by each boy. Creativity, spontaneity and the joy of singing are as important as a highly developed technique."