Wow, with the American Boychoir School having a total enrollment of
80 students at a time, who would have guessed that I'd find a fellow
For anyone who's ever read A Separate Peace, that's what the American
Boychoir School, located in Princeton, New Jersey, is like. Everyone
is required to wear uniforms at all times,
though the clothes that make up the uniform have been amended in recent
years to include jeans and sweatshirts in addition to polos and
chinos that ABS students have worn for decades. The main building, where
all the classes and choir rehearsals take place, is a mansion that was
owned by Dr. Lambert, the inventor of Listerine, as the story goes. It has
all the necessary elements of a New England Boarding School: A foreboding
basement (every year on Halloween the 8th graders put on a haunted
house in the basement they call the Gore Walk), a formal staircase,
hardwood floors, and nooks and crannies abound.
Discipline is rather old-fashioned. Penalties for misconduct include
work detail, disappoints, demerits, and suspensions. More minor
infractions could warrant a punishment of "standing on the wall," a
procedure where you stand in front of the wall and look at it until you're
told otherwise. Every rehearsal begins with a double line, a formation
where everyone stands, silently, eyes forward for half a minute or so--this
is designed to make everyone calm and focused.
There are so many more things I could describe about the school and the
adventure of living with 79 other boys, but I'll spare you all.
The performing opportunities the American Boychoir affords a
middle-school aged boy are mind-boggling. No matter how much you try to
realize this at the time, one can't possibly grasp it. Here's a rundown of
some of the things I did while part of the American Boychoir:
- Touring: I went on 10 different month-long tours, which took
me through probably three quarters of the US states, and to Europe
- Orchestras: The New York Philharmonic, The Boston Symphony
Orchestra, The New York Pops, The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
- Venues: Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center,
and countless Cathedrals, Churches, Concert Halls and Schools.
- People: Robert Shaw, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Kathleen
Battle, Jesse Norman, James Levine (think Fantasia 2000), John
Williams, and many more
- Recording: Recorded three full-length CDs1
It's likely that you've heard the American Boychoir before. They sang the
True Colors commercial for Kodak in the 1988 Olympics, the very
beginning of the soundtrack Interview with a Vampire, and the "Easy for
You" Stetson commercial. They also sang the majority of the soundtrack for
Wide Awake, a Rosie O'Donnell movie that flopped. They've appeared on
Good Morning, America several times, and once in a church service at the
Crystal Cathedral, which is broadcast nationally every Sunday morning.
The American Boychoir sports a very wide range of literature. The first
part of the program generally consists of what conductor James Litton
refers to as "Masterworks for Boys' Voices." Since women didn't sing in
church until relatively recently, the vast majority of European sacred
music is written for men and boys, and the choir manages to supply budding
tenors and basses from those whose voices have begun to change before
they graduate. For this part of the program, the choir dresses in
vestments, which look something like big red dresses with white
surplices draped over them. On the other end of the spectrum, the group
performs African, Asian, and American folk songs, including a
choreographed medley which is, at this time, a medley of Gershwin
The choir is really very good. We always liked to think we were better
than Vienna, but of course having no where near the name recognition,
we're not as highly regarded. But if they ever tour to where you live, you
ought to see them. They put on a good show.
1 I was never very photogenic, but one photo of me that
seems to have lived on in the choir's literature is one of me in a recording
session. You can see it at the top of the page at
http://www.americanboychoir.org/recordingspage.htm -- I'm the one in the
middle, with the red sweater on. That would have been in 1995 or 96, so
about 4 years ago...