Talented Choristers of The American Boychoir Have Lifted Their Voices in Song for 76 Years
Founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1937, The American Boychoir (originally the Columbus Boychoir) came to Princeton in 1950, and has been an important part of the cultural life of the town ever since.
Established by Herbert Huffman, the Choir is considered to be one of the finest choirs of its kind in the United States and among the finest in the world. It is currently under the guidance of Litton-Lodal Music Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz.
The objectives stated in The American Boychoir School’s original charter are as important today as they were in 1937.
“(1) To build character in young boys and prepare them for good citizenship.
(2) To provide an exceptional training program for musically talented boys, regardless of their religion, social or financial circumstances.
(3) To make this unique opportunity the motivation for general educational attainment.
(4) To help enrich the cultural life of the nation and to produce a musical organization that is recognized throughout the country as the finest of its kind.”
Special and Unique
“This institution is special, unique,” notes American Boychoir general manager Christie Starrett. “It is wonderful to watch a child’s development, and the Choir takes boys from any background. 60 percent of the boys are on scholarship. They might be from a family with no musical experience or from a home in which both parents are musicians, and then their voices are melded into this wonderful Choir.”
Boys aged nine to 14, in grades four through eight, attend the American Boychoir School. They come from across the U.S. and from abroad. Typically 45 to 50 boys comprise the student body, both boarding and day students.
In January of this year, the school moved to the Princeton Center for Arts and Education, the site of the former St. Joseph’s Seminary at 75 Mapleton Road in Plainsboro. Five buildings, including classrooms and rehearsal space, a chapel, and gym on 47 acres offer expanded space for academic studies and music rehearsal.
In addition to the Boychoir, the location is home to The Wilberforce School and the French American School of Princeton.
“St. Joseph’s was formerly an educational institution, and when we found it was available, it seemed like a good fit. It offered us the right kind of space,” says Dr. Kerry Heimann, PhD, the Choir’s assistant music director and accompanist. “The chapel is outstanding and can serve as performing space.”
Boys who are interested in joining the Choir and attending the school audition in an informal setting. No previous musical experience is necessary, explains Dr. Heimann. “We have very simple auditions. The boys don’t have to prepare music. We are interested in hearing their tone, range, and getting a sense of their personality and interest in music.”
Even if their voices change, the boys remain in the Choir, adds Ms. Starrett. “We emphasize that the voice change is a normal part of life. It is a natural progression of a male human being.”
A fully accredited middle school education, with instruction in language arts, math, social studies, science, and Spanish, is available with the advantage of small classes for more individual attention. The boys’ day is long, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Music study and rehearsal encompass three to four hours a day, reports Dr. Heimann. “They study music theory, learn to read music, and also take a year of piano instruction.”
They also have physical education and exercise options, as well as a one-hour rest period during their intense daily program.
The curriculum of The American Boychoir School is uniquely structured so that the boys gain their education not only in the classroom but also during their tours and travel experience and their musical performances.
“Part of the learning experience is experiential learning,” points out Ms. Starrett. “The boys can read about the Alamo, and then actually be at the Alamo when they are on tour. They come away from the school not only as musicians, but as informed citizens.
“Also, another component of the boys’ education here is the school’s heavy emphasis on manners and character development. This is very important. The boys meet people all over the country and other parts of the world. They have to be able to converse and be comfortable with people of different backgrounds and cultures, and be courteous and polite.
“The major pillars of the tours are cities,” continues Ms. Starrett, “but we go all over the U.S. and perform in small towns as well. The boys stay in private homes and have opportunities to be with people of different backgrounds, culture, etc. This broadens their horizons.”
The Choir is highly regarded in music circles as well as among the general public whose appreciative audiences greet the Choir warmly. The Boychoir’s standing as pre-eminent ambassador of American musical excellence is maintained through an extremely busy tour schedule, both nationally and abroad, and through frequent television and radio guest appearances.
The Choir typically schedules five tours during the school year, often for three weeks at a time. During the tours they keep up with their academic studies, completing assignments and homework. Nearly 100 peformances are scheduled throughout the year.
The Choir is also often invited to join internationally-known artists on stage, including great classical artists, such as opera stars Jessye Norman and Frederica von Stade, jazz headliner Wynton Marsalis, and pop icons Beyoncé and Sir Paul McCartney.
The boys also perform regularly with world-class ensembles, including The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Boston Symphony, among others.
The Choir’s legacy is preserved through an extensive recording catalog, which includes more than 46 commercial recordings. Its most recent release, Journey On, was hailed by Fanfare Magazine as “a fabulous recording, encompassing a remarkable range of music and styles, all of it performed with an astonishing accuracy and élan, conveying at every turn a sense of discovery and an utter engagement with the music.”
The focus of the Choir’s repertoire is classical music, but the boys also enjoy performing lighter selections. “Ten percent of our boys sang with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” notes Dr. Heimann. “This was a very different musical experience.”
Upcoming tours and engagements include trips to various locations in the U.S. In addition, the choir recently returned from a concert tour to South Korea. Many Princeton residents look forward to the Choir’s annual Christmas concerts in the Princeton University Chapel and Richardson Hall in December, this year to be held Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15.
In addition, the public is welcome to attend Friday afternoon rehearsals held in the chapel at the Arts and Education Center.
Many Boychoir graduates continue in the field of music as adults, notes Dr. Heimann. “Some have gone into performing, teaching music, and arts management. Most retain a strong relationship with music and the arts throughout their lives.”
“During Alumni Weekend, a lot of graduates come back, and they enjoy singing with the boys,” adds Ms. Starrett.
Both Ms. Starrett and Dr. Heimann have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the mission of The American Boy Choir School and to watch the boys develop into superbly talented musicians and outstanding individuals. “Seeing the boys develop as musicians, become polite and cooperative people, and be aware of the world around them is a pleasure.”
For further information, call (609) 924-5858, or visit the website: www.americanboychoir.org.