Princeton Festival is many things during its month-long season, including opera, jazz, and instrumental genres. Last Saturday night was the Festival’s chance to be choral, with a presentation of one of the region’s most successful youth choirs. The Keystone State Boychoir, based in Philadelphia, maintains a musical education and performance program for 190 boys (its sister Pennsylvania Girlchoir is equally as active), and 47 of these boys came to Princeton’s Trinity Church to perform a sampling of their core repertoire. Conductor Steven Fisher and accompanist Joseph Fitzmartin (also an arranger for the choir) led the trebles, tenors, and basses through an engaging program which thoroughly entertained the audience at Trinity.
Keystone State Boychoir prides itself on diversity of repertoire, and the program Saturday night was billed as an “Americana Program.” Perhaps acknowledging the concert venue, the Boychoir opened with a verse from Percy Buck’s “Oh, Lord God” sung by a clear-voiced soloist, together with one of the international anthems of boychoirs — C. Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem.” The “Evening Prayer” from Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, led by two soloists, showed a free and open tone in the upper registers of the singers. The Boychoir recently paid tribute to 90-year-old American composer Ned Rorem, and the excerpt from Rorem’s What is Pink? was sung at a sprightly tempo, with a tricky piano part effectively played by Mr. Fitzmartin.
Mr. Fisher divided the concert repertoire into music for trebles, then music for the changed voices, and the remainder of the first portion of the program included familiar works for treble chorus, sung with a well-blended full sound and good diction. Alan Naplan’s arrangement of “Al Shlosha” demonstrated some of the best tuning of the concert, and Mr. Fisher used the acoustics of Trinity Church well in Michael Scott’s arrangement of the American folktune “Dance, Boatman Dance.” The Keystone State Boychoir clearly emphasizes showmanship in performance, which could be seen in their rendition of “Food, Glorious Food” from the musical Oliver.
The “Graduate Choir,” comprised of the changed voices, showed both creative programming and singing through selections from Broadway to old pop music. The young men of this chorus displayed good animation in a clever arrangement of the Everly Brothers hit “Hello, Mary Lou,” with Mr. Fitzmartin maintaining good command over the jazz elements, as well as a unique vocal treatment of the Arabic change “Zikr.” Several soloists in particular proved themselves to be well-trained singers throughout the performance, including Nick van Meter and Colman Cumberland.
The impact of participating in a children’s choir goes way beyond the music, and the members of the Keystone State Boychoir showed that text can be equally as meaningful. A set of South African music sung by the entire choir and dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, gave the singers a chance to point the way to a global future through music. The Boychoir’s rendition of “The Circle of Life” was quick and smooth, with Mr. Fitzmartin once again revealing himself to be an amazing pianist. More poignant was Mr. Fitzmartin’s arrangement of Dan Heymann’s “Weeping,” which the Boychoir had augmented with added rap written by choristers.
As the Keystone State Boychoir prepares for its upcoming tour to Australia, the energy of the singers was infectious and their commitment to choral performance confirmed.
The Boychoir’s performance Saturday night also fit well with the mission of the Princeton Festival to identify talent and create the musicians of tomorrow.