A joyful noise, from America's only Catholic choir school

The only choir school of its kind in America is embarking on a new era, with a new musical director — and he brings his own unique musical tradition to the job.

Details in the Boston Globe:

Early on a cold December morning, in a classroom near Harvard Square, four dozen boys in black cassocks and white surplices are rehearsing an unfamiliar hymn before the 8 a.m. Mass. Eyes dart between their hymnals and the young Englishman standing before them, the new music director of the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School, John Robinson.

At first the boys’ voices sound reedy and a bit scattered. But Robinson draws them in with crisp direction, guiding them through the difficult parts, entreating them to sing more boldly, more clearly. Slowly the choir awakens, and the hymn’s mournful melody engulfs the room.

“Even if you sing a wrong note, I do not mind,’’ he tells them. “I’d much rather it sound confident.’’

The only Catholic boys’ choir school in the country is relying on the 27-year-old Robinson, a former assistant organist at the Canterbury Cathedral and a product of the Anglican choir school tradition, to lead it into a new era. He will need all the confidence he can muster.

The choir once sang in Paris and Rome and performed with the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but in recent years it has drifted from the public eye, becoming a kind of well-kept secret of its home parish, St. Paul’s, and admissions officers at well-regarded high schools.

Enrollment this year slipped to 50, well below the capacity of 60 boys in grades 5 through 8, a trend related to the overall enrollment decline in Catholic schools, from which the choir school has traditionally recruited most of its students.

The school, which relies partly on donations, also faces financial challenges as it works to enrich its academic and music programs. There has been substantial personnel turnover, as well; four full-time faculty members, including the principal, left last spring.

The retirement of longtime music director John Dunn has left the school for the first time in its 47-year history without a direct musical descendant of its visionary founder, Theodore Marier, a renowned figure in US Catholic music. It will be up to Robinson to lead the school’s musical program into the 21st century.

“They are at a very crucial moment in terms of their future, and it’s a dangerous moment, too,’’ said Mark Dwyer, organist and choirmaster at The Church of the Advent, an Episcopal parish on Beacon Hill. Dwyer, a member of the committee that hired Robinson, said, “John is taking on an awful lot, because the institutional memory has now left. . . . He has a real opportunity to mold and shape the future.’’

Check out the rest — along with a video, so you can hear for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Comments

  1. It may be the only all-boys choir school, but it is not he only Catholic choir school in the US. The Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City has one as well.

    http://www.madeleinechoirschool.org/

  2. Yes, Choir Schools in the U.S. are rare. Thanks F.C. for mentioning my parish school where my children attend. It is rigorous, but these schools are gems.

    Deacon Scott

  3. I hope you would not have reservations if I placed a part of A joyful noise, from America’s only Catholic choir school | The Deacon's Bench on my univeristy blog?

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