IS There A Future For Boychoir?

by Douglas Neslund


This is a legitimate question to ask on a board entitled "FUTURE".

Of course, until the Powers That Be decide that this world is no longer inhabitable, the world will always provide boys (or, as it now seems possible, their clones). The raw talent, in other words, is always with us, around us, waiting to be offered the chance to sing.

It follows, then, that the next question would be: "Why would a boy want to sing?"

Singing is an expression of the soul. There are other such expressions, but singing is one of the most public ones. The singer is unzipping himself before the public, and whoever he is, is revealed through the medium of his voice and his talent. That is a daunting and often overwhelming fact. A lot of people cannot overcome the roadblock that this fact presents, and forever silence their souls. Something too dark, too challenging, too secret, is to be revealed, and this scares the individual into silence.

Children are by nature expressive, and are therefore natural singers. Their inhibitions do not extend to a zippering up of their souls. Singing is a natural state of childhood, except perhaps to the extremely damaged child. Therefore, the inhibitions of the adult are not visited upon the child, and the child - for all intents and purposes - remains an instrument willing to be taught.

A boychoir segregates (yes, the word is chosen deliberately) a group of boys from the general childhood population into a single purpose: the preparation and delivery of that unique musical instrument called the boy's voice, multiplied into however number of members the boychoir has.

No two boy voices are the same! While most carry the distinctive characteristics of a boy's voice - a volume provided by larger lungs than the female equivalent - and a vocal mechanism larger than the adult female - and a very special characteristic sound that takes the above two physical characteristics and infuses them with the typical boy attitude of "can do" provides a sound that begins, in the 8-year-old, with a flutelike sweetness, to the 12-year-old's wide-ranging brass, reed, or string-related full voiced sound capable of reducing an audience to tears with the beauty of its sound. By extension, the boychoir is an ensemble of such voices, in all their vocal color and strength, that is capable of delivering music from ancient times to modern, with equal ability and beauty.

The next question is: who is capable of bringing such a boychoir into the realm of reality?

Sadly, the answer is: not many. When those who do not wish to deal with the multiple problems of molding and polishing such an human instrument are excused, few remain. And those few must have a passion for such molding and polishing, because again of the very nature of the beast - or instrument. Those who are still interested in pursuing such a course must be trained in general music knowledge - history, style, culture, theory - as well as specific vocal training appropriate to the task; some will lose heart in this process. The remainder will be a very few, special, dedicated people who will face yet additional roadblocks - learning to deal with the reality of parents, schools, and the law, which often - in the name of protecting children - hinder their growth and development as human beings.

Our vastly dminished group of potential boychoir directors must now face additional requirements: personal character and integrity, personality and dealing with others, management skills, understanding and relating to children in their vastly different faces and modes, use of public informational opportunities, raising money for scholarships, on and on it goes! Not all of the above can be learned outside of the "school of hard knocks." Some will be learned through an epiphany of difficulties and tribulations.

The potential choirmaster should be a male, for a boychoir. Few females are equal to the task, for the simple reason that growing males have quite different needs from growing females. It takes one to know one, is a good rule of thumb. A few females have insight into the boymind, but few are able to translate that insight into the real world of rehearsal and performance. A boy in his older childhood needs a man in his life, to supplement the boy's father, in the learning of how things work. Too often, that other man replaces the father, who is all too often absent or at least a distant participant in the boy's life. In earlier years, virtually all school teachers are women. Boys are exposed to female logic and approach almost 100% of the time. It is a huge relief to the average boy to have the chance to relate to an adult male as a teacher and mentor.

Now we are down to the truly few: the brave, the well-trained, the caring male, to take the role of boychoirmaster. Into what world does this putative director walk? Into a hostile arena of child-savers who regard such men as probable child abusers, and who consider them to be incapable of adult relationships, and who will be quick to label such brave souls as questionable at best of being a positive force in the life of a child. Therefore, it is currently (almost without exception) necessary for our future director to be married - to "prove" himself socially to the world. A wife who is understanding of the special art form called boychoir, who is able to comprehend the enormous difficulties of being a boychoir director, and who is willing to stand by her man in at least a positive way. The best wife for this brave man would be a woman skilled in teaching music, who could, in addition to being his wife, be a fellow teacher on the future choir's staff. The few men who fit the mold of our future boychoirmaster is equal to the few women who would be their partners. We have eliminated, so far, a lot of good, talented people in our winnowing of the field, some who would have been excellent, who would have provided first-rate boychoirs, who would have functioned as model mentors for their singers. The mood of society in the early 21st century does not allow for such single men to achieve a position of power and authority, unless ... that single man is willing to stare down the opposition, to ignore the questioning look, to understand that a lot of boys will not come into his classroom because of parental fears generated by the child-savers and hysterics.

So ,,, IS there a future for boychoir?

Well, yes - but one brought to near extinction by the combination of roadblocks enumerated above, plus others not mentioned. One potential "saving grace" is also compromised: the Church, which at present is under withering attack as the daily newspaper attests.

Perhaps the future of boychoir is presently one of "hanging on" until a more enlightened generation emerges to rediscover the magic and to want their boys to have the chance to experience excellence in this unique art form. We should at least be thankful for the presence of CDs and DVDs that will preserve those boychoirs who are excellent, and perhaps, through websites such as this one, provide a few clues to future boychoirmasters on the issues of "how it's done."

To that end, we must support the few excellent boychoirs that still exist: through the purchase of their recorded material, and through attendance at live performances. Because we never know when that next concert will be the last one.

Douglas Neslund
Retired Founder-Director
California Boys' Choir

Copyright 2002, Douglas Neslund