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In the midst of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, the Raleigh Boychoir's spring concert was not cancelled but transformed into a virtual sharing from the various choirs and individual members who make up the organization. To this writer's knowledge, this is the first concert since the beginning of the outbreak that has defied the odds and carried on with a performance. While it was not what artistic director Jeremy Tucker had initially programed, he did not skip a beat in holding fast to the mission statement of the RBC: Sing, Transform, Lead.
The last of the four-concert series for the year, entitled "World Music Concert," was to be held on the same day and time, May 30, at 3 pm, at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As the state and city went on lockdown, the RBC took one week off and then began once again to meet, on Zoom, still practicing on Mondays. Nothing was going to stop this 52-year-old institution from doing what they do! It was determined that the members could share various music from around the world, using the technology available to them. They were encouraged to include family members.
Board chair Patty Kingery introduced the performance, discussing new use of environment and noting that there were no ticket sales for this performance but that concert-goers could hit the "donate button" at any point during the performance. While during the streaming there were 81 attendees (or computer screens watching..., maybe more folks?), this performance is likely to reach a much wider audience due to the recording.
Tucker then graced the virtual stage introducing the theme, noting that 35 members from all four of the choirs as well as family and community members would be participating. He noted that the choristers had "taken the lead" in presenting a truly collaborative musical experience. The music shared included both Zoom and iPhone performances by the current choir and also recordings from past concerts.
Appropriately, they opened a previously recorded August 2017 performance of the combined choirs singing a joyous jig by Ken Berg, "Join the Song."
Members of the training and residence choirs then took turns singing four bars of the traditional Mexican folk song, "De Colores" from their various homes. This was followed by Felix, from the performing choir, singing Francis Scott Key/John Stafford Smith "Star Spangled Banner." Felix was accompanied by his sister on French horn.
Max, from the performing choir, then took us to Germany, where he performed beautifully Minuets 1 and 2 by J.S. Bach on his home piano.
Then Xander, from the performing choir, led his brother and three cousins as they shared "El-Shaddi" (Amy Grant), taking turns on the verses and singing in unison on the chorus. An added feature of this performance was the beautiful background that appeared to be a waterfall at the Eno River. Xander gave us a wink at the end!
Next we visited the Czech Republic, as performing choir member and violinist Owen played "Humoresque" by Antonín Dvořák. The brilliant smile at the end made it all the more enjoyable.
Resident choir member Aaron shared a bit of the traditional Irish tune "Wee Falorie Man" from his front porch.
Bryson, from the resident choir, introduced the African hymn "Sizohamba Niya," from the nation of Swaziland, as translated into English by John Bell (2002). Bryson did not have to sing completely a cappella as his very handsome and supportive dog joined in on the "catchy" tune, keeping the beat with his tail, panting, and adding toe nail percussion where needed.
Performing choir member Alexander introduced camerawoman "Mom" before playing the first theme from "Spring" from the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons on his electronic keyboard.
Another piano performance, this time of "Drifting" (Carol Miller), followed, as played by Oliver on his lovely Baldwin piano. Oliver played from memory, keeping great time, and his arpeggios were lovely.
Training choir member Remi then took us to France with his ukulele as he sang and played "Frère Jacque" in both French and English. Remi made good eye contact with the camera, giving us a great smile and flourishing chord at the end of the rendition.
Resident chorister Raymond played a solo violin version of Minuet No. 3 by J.S. Bach, followed by training chorister Andrew accompanied by his mother on guitar playing the traditional Jewish song, "Shalom Chaverim."
Benjamin, from the performing choir, was accompanied by this father on piano for a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." However, the pianist was confused briefly as dad began Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" in full force before recognizing his mistake. Benjamin took it in stride, with good humor and great composure and posture. The show went on!
Alex from the training choir took us out to a pond where he introduced his offering of the English folk song "Lavender Blue." It is unclear who had arranged it, but the backing track rocked out. Even a flock of Canada geese got in on the singing behind Alex.
A beautiful rendition of John Rutter's "Look at the World" as performed in the RBC 50th concert season was then sung by all four choirs plus the cathedral choir, accompanied by chamber orchestra. The timeless beauty of the Rutter, along with the aptly appropriated title, fit perfectly into the middle of this virtual concert. It was met with a standing ovation by a full house. Those times will hopefully come back soon.
Performing choir member Wasswa, along with his father and sister playing dobro and violin, respectively, played an extremely well-done version of "Amazing Grace" in the Appalachian folk style. Some great talent in that living room!
Performing chorister Yashwin and his mother performed an amazing Hindu Carnatic Swarasthana entitled "Saamba Shivaayana." His mother sang beautifully as he showed extreme skill in playing the traditional mridangam in accompanying her. Listeners had to have been transported!
Next, Ethan and his mom lightened the mood with the self-written "Quarantine Song," set to the music of "Hard to Forget" (Sam Hunt). Ethan definitely has potential as a poet, rocker, or comedian. His lyric reaches out to his fellow "broskis" and discusses the woes of being bored during the COVID-19 lockdown. Mom Amy gave him a hug at the end. It's going to be ok!
Another talented family performed "This Little Light of Mine" (Harry Dixon Loes). Performing choir member and violinist Thomas introduced his mother and sister (both violinists and singers) along with his father on guitar and vocals: they sang and played in four-part harmony. Outstanding. Take it on the road!
Young men's ensemble member Marcel and brother Theo (from the resident choir) didn't seem to be acting when they performed Irvine Berlin's "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. Both being fine singers, that sibling rivalry really showed on who could hold the last note the longest.
Luke, from the young men's ensemble, classed it up in a tux crooning a chorus of the Bart Howard classic "Fly Me to the Moon". This was followed by Charlie from the same ensemble, playing guitar and singing, along with his sister, the melancholic "Rivers and Roads" by The Head and the Heart.
Fox (from the performing choir) and his grandfather (guitar) gave us another lovely evening front porch offering of "Blackbird" by the Beatles. This was followed by young men's ensemble member Ben, who included is adorable 7-year-old sister on the Scots Irish text/tune "Wild Mountain Time." Ben accompanied on guitar as they sat on a grassy field.
Performing choir member Miles used his technical skills to create a split screen to sing in harmony with himself on a traditional Jewish song of peace, "Oseh Shalom."
Nickolas and his mom gave us comfort by offering "Three Little Birds" by Jamaican composer Bob Marley. The chorus was the balm all viewers needed: "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be alright."
Stephan and Malcolm used the split screen technology once again to sing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." Their beautiful smiles and expressive performances were appreciated.
The three seniors in the RBC gave closing remarks and encouraging words for their fellow choristers. It is clear that RBC has a great impact on the young men who join. Malcolm Vaughn has been with RBC one year and will be attending Appalachian State University to major in music education. Marcel Pietris who has been with RBC for ten years will be attending the North Carolina School of the Arts to study voice in the fall. Will Kloempken, a ten-year RBC member, will be going to UNC Chapel Hill in the fall to study history and possibly minor in music. Congratulations to them all.
The virtual concert closed with a prerecorded (2018) performance of a joint collaboration with the Middle Creek HS Concert Singers singing "Music Changes the World" (Jim Papoulis). This uplifting piece begins with a young speaker saying, "In order to make a true change in the world, I will pledge to myself to our acceptance of others, to be more tolerant. To be a kind, considerate person, I will look within myself, and only then can I make a real change in the world."
Tucker and the rest of the RBC leaders have done an unbelievable job of giving these tender young souls the support and opportunity to grow both musically and as true human beings, really set up to lead with heart. Sharing their family support system was yet another testament to what a wonderful community is out there.
Bravo, Raleigh Boychoir, for persevering through these tough times and for sharing all of that brave giving and passion for life!
Be sure to check CVNC next week when I will be following up this review with an in-depth article on the effects of COVID-19 on choral organizations across the entire state. It will include the interviews with leading choral activity directors and their thoughts and plans for how choral music will be going forward in various school districts, choral societies, and collegiate programs in the coming season.