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.