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Boy Choir Music

boy choir music
Figure 1.--The choristers at the English Anglican cathedrals are noted for their through training and performance of traditional choral classics. Notice the high ruffled collars worn by choristers at Lichfield Cathedral.

Note: HBC has little information on choral music. Any background information that HBC readers can provide would be very helpful.

The European boy choir was created to provide musical accompaniment to church services. Following scriptual references that women should remain silent in church, only boys were allowed to sing in the early choirs. HBC has at this time only limited information on church music, but hopes to obtain needed information. Choral music is music written in parts, usually for four different voices and performed by a chorus or choir. The coral service is the musical service celebrated by a full complement of clergymen, lay clerks, and choristers, and sung or intoned in the rubrics. The European boy choral tradition originated in the church and for a milenium was purely an eclesiartical function. Secular boy choirs have appeared in 20th century and now consitute a substantial number of choirs. Even cathedral choirs in turn have added a variety of secular music for their performaces outside of religious services.

Music in the Church

Music came to play an important part in Christian religious services. We are not entirely sure about the historical process in which this developed. It does not appear to have Jewish roots. We are less sure about the musical tradition in the various religions wiyth which Christianity competed within the Roman Empire. Boy choirs are noted at an early stage in the development of thE christian Church, at least by the 5th century. The Church has in turn played a role in the development of music. Just as much of medieval art focvused on religious themes so did music focus on religious themes. The Church during the Dark ages was one of the few European institutions with the wealth to support both art and music. While music is important in most Christian faiths, the use of music has varied widely among the different denominations. Many boy choirs are associated with the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church in England is especially noted for its magnificent cathedral choirs. Protestant churches have also sponsored boy chours. Christianity is the religion with the strongest musical tradition. Many other religions seem to largely ignore music. Our informastion is limited here, but we know of no Islamic or Budhist musical tradition. Hopefully our readers can provide some insights here.

Choral Music Parts

Choral music is music written in parts, usually for four different voices and performed by a chorus or choir. In any choir, there are four voice parts: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part. So one usually speaks of a SATB choir. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, or belong to specific classical a cappella groups.The choral service is the musical service celebrated by a full complement of clergymen, lay clerks, and choristers, and sung or intoned in the rubrics.

Clasical Church Music

The European boy choir was created to provide musical accompaniment to church services. Some of the great masters of classical music have prepared works for boy choirs or works with included parts for boy singers. Handel is perhaps the best known, but there are many others. Song and choral music has played a major role in the development of classical music in the West. One of the few important cultural institutions that survived the fall of Rome was the Church. Thus through the Dark ages of the medieval era, the Church was the major cultural institution of Europe. Art (painting, sculpture, and music) was focused on the Church and glorification of God. As literacy survived primarily in the Church, the only notated music that has survived from this era is Church music and the earliest surviving music is choral music. Here the best remembered is the chant tradition of the early medieval period which flourished in monasteries and churches throughout Western Europe. The best known is of course the Gregorian chants. As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages, composers who were mostly monks began experimented with mixing two or even more melodic lines. The resulting polyphony became increasingly fashionable and is today the destinctive feature of Western music. Gradually Church cmposers began to realize that distinctive voice types served to highlight the sophisticated interplay of melodies that is the key to vocal polyphony. Here there limitations imposed by the Church. Mixed choirs of men and women are necessary to provide a full range of vocal types. Church doctrine, however, forbade women's voices in religious services. Following scriptual references that women should remain silent in church, only boys were allowed to sing along with men in the early choirs. There were, however, boys being trained in monestary and cathedral song schools. These were boys being trained as futhire priests and monks. The need for a full range of vocal types resulted in the employment of boy trebles in early Church choirs. Serious European composers for centuries wrote primarily Church music. There was no other important outlet for their work. These choirs sang "a capella" or without musical accompaniment. The vocal polyphony became the style of Church music and the great master works were created for male choirs which blended boys' and mens' voices. Serious modern choirs study and perform the great historical works of Church music. Purely boy choirs are limited, however, in their ability to perform these works. Choirs with Many mixed (men an women) SATB choirs do perform the great classics written by Byrd, Josquinby, Lassus, Palestrina, and others. To obtain the true sound conceived by these composers, a choir with the same vocal makeup of the early Church choirs is necessary. [Duke]

Secular Choirs

The European boy choral tradition originated in the church and for a milenium was purely an eclesiartical function. Secular boy choirs have appeared in 20th century and now consitute a substantial number of choirs. Even cathedral choirs in turn have added a variety of secular music for their performaces outside of religious services. Many serious choirs may perform some light popular pieces. Other less serious choirs without rigorous musical training limit their oerfomances to such popular works. The Japanese choirs often focus on popular music.

Holiday Music

Boy choirs are popular groups for holiday events, especially Christmas. Both the church and secular choirs give Christmas concerts. For many choirs Christmas is the high point of the year. The programs prepared for the holidays are quite varied. A few works are particularly loved. Perhaps the most widely performed piece is Silent Night.

Boys' Voices

The treble boy voice is considered by many to be a treasure of nature. HBC in collecting information for these choral pages, notes many references to boys' voices. We have been able to find, however, no definitive study. There are some clearly established facts. It is clear that some choral music was written for boy singers as old as 18 years. It is also clear that boys' voices now break sooner than they did even a few generations ago. Several accounts indicate that boys' voices before World War II were breaking at age 14-15 years. I'm not sure why this was, but presumanly improved diets are an important factor. This we can not, however, yet confirm. What seems much less likely is that earlier boys; voices may not have been breaking until age 18 years. We can not say definitively that this was not the case, but there are other explanations. Some observers believe that it is more likely that choir masters were teaching boys whose voices were breaking to adjust the register and manner of singing. [Beet]

Reader Comments

A French reader writes us, "The chants of the boy trebble choristers are beautiful. What can be more celestial ! as the Aria in H´┐Żndel's Messiah sung by a trebble boy. Other magnificent pieces are "He shall Feed His Flock", "How Beautifull are the Feet", "I known that My Redeemer Liveth", "Pueri Concinite" ect. One life is not enough to live all these emotions. I love the work of Peter Marschik of the Academia of London. I guess the most beautifull voices are the boys' voices before they break. The girls have another timbre juvenil purity." HBC has noted various references to differebces in boys' and girls' voices. Other clainm that that they can not be destinguished when the choir is not visible. HBC simply does not know.

Sources

Beet, Stephen. Sleeve notes to "Tis there, my child, the Better Land".

Duke, David. "The Choral Legacy: The History of the Choral Tradition".






HBC






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Created: November 22, 2000
Last updated: 2:12 AM 12/24/2004