Monday, March 28, 2011
Texas Boys Choir is not just any choir
Besides performing, the choir also aims to inspire young singers around the nation.
Artistic Director Bryan Priddy likes to play a game with his students before they perform. Standing in front of the Texas Boys Choir, he conducts them to start singing without giving them a pitch first.
“Most choirs can’t do this,” Priddy said. “But we aren’t most choirs.”
The world-known Texas Boys Choir, composed of about 50 fifth- to 12th-grade boys at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, practices two class periods per day, five days a week. Choir members like seventh-grader Zachary Harrison chased a childhood dream to join the choir.
“I actually knew about the choir since I was four and I’ve been listening to classical musical for a long time,” Harrison said.
Being a member of the choir does not simply mean attending rehearsals and performing the occasion concert. The Texas Boys Choir travels around the country and around the world to perform and compete. According to their website, the choir has performed for the pope, for presidents and for kings.
“The New York trip we took two years ago when we sang at Carnegie Hall was my favorite,” said Harrison, 13. “I’m most looking forward to next year’s Argentina trip.”
Senior Alex Baumann, 18, has sung with the boys’ choir for eight years.
“My brother, who graduated last year, saw an ad in the newspaper and thought ‘I want to wear cowboys hats and cowboy boots and sing’ so he joined and after that I wanted to join too,” Baumann said of his fifth grade year.
The last international trip the choir took in 2004 culminated at the International Choir Olympics.
“My favorite event was going to Germany in 2004 when I was a fifth grader,” Baumann said. “We went to the choir Olympics and won the gold medal.“
Though Baumann nears graduation, he looks forward to recording a DVD with the boys’ choir before the year ends.
“Making this DVD is going to be really fun because we haven’t made a DVD before, and that is really the end of my career here” Baumann said.
The Texas Boys Choir will begin recording for their first DVD on Monday.
Bryan Priddy’s Direction
Artistic Director Priddy knows everyone’s names in the choir and does not fear pointing them out if he notices a mistake.
“I don’t pussyfoot around up here,” Priddy said. “If it’s not right, it’s not right. We’re doing something artistic here. That’s wrong; fix it.”
Priddy, a director for more than 30 years, began teaching at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts three years ago.
“They’d had a very fine history,” Priddy said. “When I came on board, I was the sixth director in four years for some of the boys. Many choirs would have just disintegrated.”
Priddy said he knew many of the boys stayed in the choir because they expected a positive change in the program despite its shifting management. As a new teacher, he learned to accept the rush of excited students wanting to talk to him as a positive aspect of the job.
“That is one of the highest compliments they can give me; that they want to treat you like one of the pack,” Priddy said. “That’s the way they show that they accept you. When they don’t talk to me, that’s when I worry.”
Despite his discipline and focus (the choir starts rehearsal with a 90-second stand-still), Priddy displays his soft side in conducting as well.
“When I look at a child, I think ‘what can they become?’” Priddy said. “They’ve not been beat up enough to know this is hard. There’s not a shyness about this group.”
Priddy said he loves all his students, though he knows they can be “wicked little angels.” Priddy wrote an article with that title published on the website of the American Choral Directors Association to describe his experience with his new choir.
“At critical times in their lives, they intersect us,” Priddy said. “We teach them how to become young men; we teach them etiquette; we teach them manners; we teach them social skills; we teach the organizational skills; all the things that will make them successful in life. We try to make them become the angels that people assume them to be.”
The Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts
Gail Hartsfield, the directory of student services at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts, said she looks forward to working with the boys’ choir for the school’s upcoming tenth anniversary celebration and the choir’s sixty-fifth anniversary. The academy will hold its annual gala April 2.
“Our theme is ‘Diamonds and Sapphires,’” Hartsfield said. “The diamond is the traditional 10-year anniversary gift and the blue sapphire is the traditional 65-year anniversary gift.”
Both the Texas Boys Choir and the Singing Girls of Texas will perform at this year’s gala to commemorate the opening of the school. Stephen Madrid, the director of fine arts at the academy, said the school began with the boys’ choir.
“This school was founded on the Texas Boys Choir,” Madrid said. “That’s originally how all of this began in 1946 in Denton. What you see now is an evolution from an all-boys school to what we have now with a variety of the arts.”
Madrid said the school received 543 applicants this year for around 80 spots.
“The majority of them are here for choir,” Madrid said. “I estimate about 20 new boys are added to the boys choir yearly.”
Looking Toward the Future
Besides performing, the choir also aims to inspire young singers around the nation. On this year’s tour of the Midwest, Priddy said the choir worked with almost as many workshops and master classes as performances on the tour to spike an interest in the field.
“I feel it’s important for us to encourage and support other teachers in the trenches trying to get other boys to start singing,” Priddy said.
The choir has dreams for itself, too.
“This is where we’ve been, and this is where we want to go in 2014,” Priddy informs the choir with a layout on the board, tracing the group’s work from recordings and tour in 2008 to a trip to the International Choir Olympics in 2014.
“Singing a concert well and knowing that where we are, with 200 hours of rehearsal and learned 50 songs, there are so few choirs that come close to that,” Priddy said. “By us elevating the bar, our goal is to have the finest boys choir in the world, period.”
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