As part of its annual American Music Festival, the Raleigh Boychoir welcomed members of the esteemed Cincinnati Boychoir along with its director Christopher Eanes to create a truly memorable ensemble at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. The Raleigh Boychoir is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a top-notch choral experience for young male singers. The RBC consists of five ensembles: the Resident Choir, Training Choir, Performing Choir, Millennium Singers, and Young Men’s Ensemble (for changed voices). Founded in 1968, the RBC has long been a fixture in Raleigh’s and North Carolina’s arts scenes; under the direction of conductor Jeremy Tucker, this organization is poised to expand even further. This festival and workshop experience with the Cincinnati Boychoir, one of the premiere professional boychoirs in the U.S., is an excellent representation of RBC’s expansion towards the future.

The performers, consisting of the Raleigh Boychoir Performing Choir, Young Men’s Ensemble, and the Cincinnati Boychoir Tour Choir, presented pieces of classic American music and celebrated the possibilities of collaboration among musicians of all ages. Remarkably, the two choirs had met for the first time the morning of the performance; they rehearsed about four hours early that day. The result was six delightful songs, all arrangements of either American folk songs or African-American spirituals.

Rollo Dilworth’s arrangement of “Little David Play on Your Harp” was first, introducing the audience to this ensemble’s very well-balanced and professional sound. Eanes’ expressive conducting style produced sharp cut-offs and dynamic shaping. These elements were present in the following two songs, “Down to the River” and “Shenandoah,” which also showcased the choir’s work with diction – pure, open vowels and clear consonants shone through the folk melodies.

A documentary-style video was shown between sets of three songs, giving the audience an inside view of the rehearsals and workshops that had taken place. In addition to seeing snippets of Eanes’ rehearsal techniques, the video included short interview clips of Tucker, Eanes, and members of both choirs. It was great to hear straight from the choristers what this festival meant to them as well as why they enjoy being part of a boychoir in general. For example, boychoir members spoke about the friendships they’ve made and travel opportunities as part of being in a boychoir.

Aaron Copland’s “At the River” and the medley “A Stephen Foster Trilogy” rounded out the selection of American folk songs. The latter contained three songs specific to Southern America: “The Old Folks at Home,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Oh Susanna.” There were crisp transitions among each of the three, but particularly for “Oh Susanna,” which was clearly an ensemble (and audience!) favorite.

Lastly, the choirs performed the classic spiritual “Praise His Holy Name” – this was absolutely the highlight of the concert. It was apparent that this was the ensemble’s favorite, as they were clearly feeling both the rhythm and the meaning of the music. These elements had been present in the earlier songs as well, but for this spiritual, it was like a switch of increased energy had been flipped. The balanced, full sound of the combined choirs was definitely at its most powerful here, and all the best musical elements of the previous songs – accuracy, energy, pure vowels, etc. – combined to bring the song to life.

The RBC’s spring concert will be presented on June 5 at 3:00 p.m. at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. We’ll have details in our calendar in due course.