The Boston Musical Intelligencer
October 10, 2016
by Geoffrey Wieting
In this most Celtic of American cities, a program of music from the British Isles makes a logical offering from one of its plethora of choral ensembles. Laden with diverse styles and dialects from a wide range of composers as well as a world premiere, Renaissance Men stepped ably in on Friday at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, with an assist from the Boston City Singers’ male ensemble, the Fellas.
RenMen graciously offered the opener to the Fellas, conducted by Daniel Ryan, and Thomas Dawkins was pianist, lending support and color for both ensembles. The nattily garbed young men achieved a pleasing blend in their group of three Irish songs and one Scottish. Though they began somewhat nervously, at times anticipating Daniel Ryan’s clear beat, this improved as the set progressed, and the conductor joined the singing in “Molly Malone.” “Fields of Athenry” showcased the notable talents of (unnamed) baritones Patrick Creedon and Wyatt Staton-Todaro.
The RenMen commenced as tenor, Francesco Logozzo, sang a quintessentially Irish ditty a cappella. In “The Last Rose of Summer,” he displayed the beauty and ardor that mark both Italian and Irish tenors. It was curious to go without pause from this old favorite into Dúlamán, a savory but thoroughly contemporary choral setting of a traditional Gaelic folk song by Irish composer Michael McGlynn (b. 1964). This fascinating work about traditional customs for channeled wrack (“dúlamán”), a type of edible seaweed, was marked by quiet rustling rising occasionally to climaxes, mostly triadic harmonies, ever-shifting rhythms, and a very abrupt ending. Les filles des parreisses (Parish Girls) evoked the Channel Islands in French dialect by tenor Eric Christopher Perry (RenMen’s artistic director). Given the unreconstructed sexism of the song’s text, Perry’s enigmatic, quasi-mystical delivery might not have been my choice, but it intrigued.
Rather more in the choral mainstream stood the part song “Music, when soft voices die,” a setting by Edward Bairstow (1874-1946) of a Percy Bysshe Shelley text. If its compositional language sounds undeniably retrograde for 1929, it remains an inspired setting of a splendid poem, full of rich harmonies and delectable textures. The RenMen did themselves proud here with exquisitely balanced chords and unanimity of crescendi and diminuendi. Though many composers took inspiration from folk songs of the British Isles, Ralph Vaughan Williams stands out as the one who did the most song arrangements: for solo voice, unison and mixed voice ensembles, and orchestra. The ensemble gave a noble reading of Ca’ the yowes, his setting of a Robert Burns poem, featuring alternation of the full chorus with baritone solo (Will Prapestis) accompanied by the others humming. The lovely performance made it frustrating to be left adrift without translation of the many words of Burns’s Scots that modern English speakers kenna comprehend.
Tenor Kilian Mooney and pianist Thomas Dawkins enchanted in Benjamin Britten’s famous arrangement of “The Salley Gardens,” as Mooney fervently pressed his music to his chest and intoned ethereally in a quasi-falsetto while Dawkins created a dreamy sonic environment. Britten’s “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard” is considerably more complex, both musically and textually. With an extended text from multiple sources, some dating back to the 16th century, it is a highly accomplished work for male chorus depicting Lady Barnard’s infidelity with Little Musgrave and the dire consequences thereof. Among numerous performance highlights, I select just three: the sudden 180-degree turn of both music and vocal affect when Lady Barnard’s page decides his primary loyalty lies with Lord Barnard and scampers off to spill the beans; the subtle humor when Lord Barnard, having caught the lovers in flagrante delicto, orders Little Musgrave to put his clothes on, for “It shall ne’er be said in my country/I’ve killed a naked man;” and finally, the irony mixed with grief when Lord Barnard blames his own men for not preventing him from also killing “the fairest ladye/That ever did woman’s deed.” Unfortunately, consonants too often became obscure, forcing me to refer with some regularity to the text
Scattered in various parts of the sanctuary, the men sang “Elgin,” a brief bit of traditional Gaelic psalmody (Psalm 79:11) in English translation. Their putative word-painting at the end was bewitching, then the singers gradually converged into their group formation while singing the words “Preserve those in thy mighty pow’r that are designed to die.” This led very naturally into “I saw Eternity” with music by Welsh composer Paul Mealor (b. 1975) and poem by Henry Vaughan. Wind chimes lent the quieter sections an aura of mystery, but in others, Will Prapestis’s soprano saxophone regrettably overbalanced the chorus often, even when placed at the opposite end of the sanctuary from the singers. With better attention to balances, though, the piece could be a draw for this ensemble. A second Welsh-born composer, Hilary Tann (b. 1947), was present for the premiere of her 7-part male choir arrangement of “Paradise” (originally SAATBB), on a text of George Herbert. The work had a beguiling complexity without becoming daunting, and the musicians were on their mettle, performing with precision and passion. The poem’s defining feature is its “successively ‘pruned’ end-rhymes” (e.g., GROW-ROW-OW and FREND-REND-END) which Tann ingeniously incorporated into her music.
We returned to Ireland for “The Rare Auld Mountain Dew,” a delightful Irish folk song speaking of a beverage much stronger than our soft drink of that name. Baritone Peter Schilling was the jaunty soloist, and the fun increased when the Fellas joined the RenMen for the second and third verses. Again, it was a natural progression from the “mountain dew” to the final number (also an Irish folk song), “The Parting Glass”, with the Fellas again adding their numbers to the ensemble. As befit the piece, the rendition was low-key but heart-warming. With ingenious programming and fruitful collaborations, the Renaissance Men are maintaining a high standard that bodes well for the remaining three programs of their season.
In anticipation of our 44-voice Tour Choir's 3-week residency in South Africa in 2017, we are focusing on extensive peer leadership training as part of our youth development programs.
To assist in funding these efforts, we submitted a proposal to Hostelling USA for support. This all-inclusive award allows for 17 Boston City Singers' teenaged peer leaders and three staff members to spend two nights in Hyannis in late September. They will also participate in a community service project in the area.
Congratulations! We're pleased to announce that we've selected Boston City Singers as one of this year's recipients of HI USA's 2016 YOUTH Travel Scholarship program. After going through a competitive pool of organizational candidates, we found that Boston City Singers stood out with your focus on youth empowerment and making the most out of your experience. We feel that your youth are deserving of this award, and are confident that the experiences they have on Hyannis will be extremely impacting.
Once again, the continued support of our generous donors, foundations, state and city arts council and government leaders, Board of Director and Advisory Council members, families and our incredible singers makes this kind of support possible!
USA's 2016 YOUTH Travel Scholarship
The Scholarship Program enables youth from underserved communities to experience another community and place far different from their own. In all locations, groups can take advantage of the rich history, environment, and cultural activities that Hyannis has to offer. HI USA donates the overnights at participating hostels, subsidizes additional travel costs, and partners with local environmental and educational organizations in the Cape Cod area to provide affordable programming to selected groups.
Wellesley High School Student News Publication
Sunday's program featured a culminating combined set that included all the singers from Boston Saengerfest Men's Chorus, Boston City Singer Fellas, the high school's Men's Chorus, and the Yale Wiffenpoofs. (Matt Lieberman '16)
“Brothers in song, sing on” was just one the many lyrics sung on Sunday when four different choral groups gathered in the high school to celebrate the male voice. Taking place in the Katherine L Babson Jr. auditorium at 3 p.m., The “Brothers! Sing On” festival featured the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the “Fellas” of Boston City Singers and the Wellesley High School Men’s Chorus.
The festival began with an introduction from Mr. Linus Travers, a native of Wellesley. Mr. Travers served as the compere of the event and praised his hometown’s backing of the arts.
“I’m so proud of my former town, who supports the growth of the arts and music in this way,” Travers told the audience, which consisted of music lovers of all ages.
The first group to perform was the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus, a group of about 60 male choristers from around the Boston area. The Saengerfest Men’s Chorus performed songs such as “Shenandoah” and “The Wren’s Song.”
Prior to the show, one member of the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus, Ben Doyle of Weston, said he was excited to perform for a specific reason.
It is exciting to “perform among groups of different ages and backgrounds coming together for the enjoyment of singing.” Mr. Doyle.
Next up was the Boston City Singers Fellas, a group of high school-aged boys, who opened up with the song “Keep Us Whole.”
“It’s been a great experience getting to perform with all the talented men,” said Patrick Creedon of Burlington, a Boston City Singers Fellas soloist, and member of Burlington High School’s Class of 2018.
A notable aspect of the Fellas’ performance was their performance of “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” which featured an African drum and a verse of spoken word.
“We wanted to do something to give it more depth,” said Omar Grey of Boston, a member of Codman Academy’s Class of 2016, who wrote and performed the verse of spoken word. “I thought we’d give it what it needed.”
Other members of the Fellas said they found the experience of this concert to be unique.
“I really don’t see guys singing like this often, or at all, so it was an enlightening experience,” said Zachary Kelly of Dorchester, who is also a member of Codman Academy’s Class of 2016.
Next up was the high school’s own Men’s Chorus, which performed “Up On The Roof,” “In the Still of the Nite” and “Come Go With Me.” The performance featured soloists Will Fulginiti ’18, Ryan Accardi ’16, Jack Grossi ’18, Ben Matejka ’17, Cam Ayer ’18, Will Cramer ’16, Leon Xiong ’17, and Anand Ghorpadey ’17.
Members of the Men’s Chorus said they enjoyed seeing the unity among different chorus groups.
“The experience was truly wonderful to see men of all ages come together and express themselves through singing,” said Henry Benson ’16.
Dr. Kevin McDonald, advisor to the high school’s student-directed a capella program, acted as the conductor for the high school’s Men’s Choir performance
“Anytime you get a group together with the sole purpose of making something beautiful.. you have to take advantage of those opportunities,” Dr. McDonald said.
The last group to perform was the Yale Whiffenpoofs, who represented a long-standing tradition as the first and oldest collegiate a capella group. The group of Yale University seniors performed a medley of songs to cap off the group performances, including well-known tunes such as “Carolina in My Mind” and “House of the Rising Sun.” All of the pieces performed by the Whiffenpoofs had been arranged by current or former Whiffenpoofs members.
After the Whiffenpoofs invited Yale University alumnus in the audience on stage to perform “The Whiffenpoof Song,” the four groups converged on stage.
“It was nice to watch them all go singular and then watch them all go together,” said Will Fulginiti ’18.
Finally, the four groups performed “Brothers, Sing On,” a final celebration of the male voices that joined together at the high school on Sunday.
(Matt Lieberman ’16, Editor-in-Chief)
By Lisa Moore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
On Sunday afternoon, Wellesley High presented Brother’s Sing On!, an all-male a cappella festival hosted by the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus. Former Wellesley resident Linus Travers is the Compere or master of ceremony for Saengerfest concerts and kept the afternoon running smoothly, introducing each group and providing insight into the song selections presented.
The BSMC opened the show with three traditional pieces with Welsh and English origins and were followed by a subgroup of the BSMC “Sound Investment” who sang a traditional Scottish song. Made up of approximately 70 singers, the BSMC, based in the Greater Boston area, enjoy the comradery of weekly rehearsals and performing in at least five concerts a year.
In his introduction, Travers spoke of the importance for men to keep singing, of how music is part of every culture, and how one can feel the spirit of a culture through song. The BSMC demonstrated that with their choral selections and epitomize the concert title “Brothers Sing On!” Being made up of men with the average age of 65 and the oldest at 85, these men are still singing on brilliantly.
Joining the festival for the first time was a talented group of young men the “Fellas” from Boston City Singers. This group was founded in 2014 as one part of the Concert Chorus. The goal of Boston City Singers is “to provide the highest level of musical training and wide ranging performance opportunities to young men ages 13-19, with a vision to transform the lives of inner city young men, one voice at a time, inspiring and developing each heart to live with compassion in a world of differences.”
Led by conductor Dan Ryan, the 12 young men performed two numbers beautifully, their talent and youth providing a pleasant contrast to the BSMC.
The Wellesley High School’s Men’s Chorus performed three fun numbers conducted by Dr. Kevin McDonald. Each year the Wellesley High choral department performs in numerous formal events, a cappella festivals and community outreach events providing important opportunities for the singers to share their music with a wide audience and learn from the many other talented groups they perform with.
Headlining the afternoon was the famous Yale Whiffenpoofs. Each year 14 senior Yale men are selected to be members of the “Whiffs,” a tradition that dates back to 1909. This year’s group put on a fabulous 15-song set, choosing works from many different genre, interjecting humor, and choreography into some of the numbers.
To end the show all the performers joined on stage together to sing two numbers closing with “Brothers, Sing On” by Edvard Grieg. Standing on the risers, mingled together were young and old, new talent and polished professionals, sharing a common love for song. It was a fitting end to a wonderful afternoon of a cappella music.
Lisa Moore is a correspondent for Hometown Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boston City Singers selected as a grantee of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts innovation and Management Program
[Dorchester] — SEPTEMBER 15, 2015 — Boston City Singers today announced that it is a grantee recipient of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) program. Through the two-year initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies is providing $30 million across 262 small and mid-sized nonprofit cultural organizations around the country to help strengthen their operational and programming efforts, including training in fundraising, audience development and board member engagement.
“We are honored to have been selected to be part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ newest funding program. To be recognized by such a prestigious national foundation allows us to strengthen our music and youth development programs.” said Jane Money, Boston City Singers’ Founding Artistic Director.
The invitation-only program supports nonprofit cultural organizations based in six cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All organizations are locally or internationally recognized nonprofits that have been in existence for at least two years. The grantees are required to participate in a management training program; secure matching funds; ensure 100% board participation in fundraising; and maintain up-to-date information in the Cultural Data Project, an online financial & data collection platform that assists arts organizations across the country to collect, learn from, and use data effectively. The grants are unrestricted so that recipients can use them to address their greatest needs.
The grant will be used to strengthen programming through prospect research and cultivation, increase the donor database and host cultivation events.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland to develop curricula and conduct trainings for the AIM program in each city. The comprehensive workshops engage organizations around activities that strengthen their long-term health and goals and include consultations and implementation support for arts managers and their boards.
First piloted in New York City, Bloomberg Philanthropies supported 245 grantees through AIM from 2011-2013. Participating organizations reported improvements in audience development, board engagement and fundraising over the two-year program.
Boston City Singers Embarks on
International Goodwill Performance Tour to Costa Rica
DORCHESTER, MA (July 20, 2015) – The acclaimed Dorchester-based Boston City Singers Tour Choir — over 40 young singers ages 11-18 — is getting ready to embark on a two-week Goodwill Tour to Costa Rica from August 8 - 21, 2015.
The Tour Choir will explore Costa Rica’s musical traditions as well as its unique history and ecology. They will begin in Peñas Blancas, where they will perform at two local primary schools, followed by a visit to an orphanage in La Fortuna. In San Jose, the Tour Choir will have the opportunity to perform at the Cartago Cathedral with the renown chamber choir Sensa Tempo, under the direction of Beverlyn Mora, faculty member at the Universidad de Costa Rica. At the Eugene O’Neill Theatre (the fourth largest theater in the country), Boston City Singers will join forces with the Universidad de Costa Rica choir in an evening concert. They will close the tour with concerts and visits in Monteverde and Punta Leona. In addition to their several performances, the Tour Choir will also have the opportunity to learn about Costa Rican culture and history through hands-on activities, including learning folk dances, and history tours.
Boston City Singers is committed to developing cultural ambassadors for peace, harmony, and cooperation by embarking on a Goodwill Tour biannually. Under the direction of Artistic Director Jane E. Money, all members have been given the opportunity to attend regardless of their family’s financial circumstance. To prepare for the tour, the forty singers were divided into six teams and asked to raise at least $3,000 per team to contribute toward the cost of the tour. In addition, singers took part in a service day designed to fundraise in their neighborhoods and communities. The fundraising is well worth it, say singers, for the experiences they have while on tour:
“When we travel to other countries, I know that when we start singing, a connection will form between each and every one of us, as if an invisible thread is running through our lungs.”
— Maggie L., Tour Choir member
For updates while the group is abroad, visit www.bostoncitysingers.org and click on “News”, or visit Boston City Singers’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BostCitySingers, where they will post stories and photos throughout the trip.