Warwickshire County Boys Choir make sweet music
PUBLISHED: 17:05 23 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:56 20 February 2013
Choirs are suddenly back in fashion thanks, in part, to the BBC programme, The Choir.
Shhhhhhh. As I tentatively opened the door of St Nicholas Church in Warwick, I was greeted by two anxious faces, index fingers firmly pressed against their lips, appealing to me not to say a word. I tiptoed in behind them and quietly joined a group of anxious parents sat at the back of the church, glued to their seats, virtually motionless (for fear of creating
The front of the church was filled with an organised crowd of schoolboys. But rather than chaotic, playful banter, the air was resonating with musical harmony; a choral version of the heart-warming classic, You raise me up. Because on this Saturday in February, Warwickshire County Boys Choir was recording a special compilation CD of their favourite tracks, especially for their mothers.
The harmony was suddenly broken. Musical director, Garry Jones, calls the boys abruptly to a halt. Something had gone wrong. Parents sigh, the boys grimace and after some short, sharp words from Garry, they start the recording again from the top. It was clear, nothing but perfection would do.
Warwickshire County Boys Choir is run and organised through Warwickshire County Music Service, with additional funding from Youth Musics Voices of the Future project. Its free to attend and is one of the few activities that brings together boys from schools across the county. Since its official launch in March 2008, Warwickshire County Boys Choir has steadily grown in numbers. With around 110 boys aged between eight and 15 now regularly attending practice sessions every week, the group is arguably the largest boys choir in the country.
The popularity of the choir is a lot to do with its ethos; the choir is open to all boys with no auditions or specific vocal standards for entry. Although if you take part you are expected to show commitment and improve.
About 60 boys came to the first session, Garry remembers. Of which about 40 could sing. We sang a three part number and it was in eight parts.
Skip forward to today and they are singing competently, in three parts, songs ranging from the Beach Boys pop classic Fun, Fun, Fun to more traditional chorale tunes such as Elijah Rock.
Some of the boys here today, they wouldnt have believed they could sing and theyve discovered voices, Garry explains. Its all about bringing this out. Kids who have fantastic voices who would never have found theyd got one.
A former Director of Warwickshire County Music Service and an Oxford University choral scholar, Garry is definitely a tough taskmaster, as all good teachers are. When I arrived at the church at one oclock, the boys had already been rehearsing and recording almost solidly for three and a half hours.
They havent enjoyed this morning at all, Garry admits with a well-meaning smile. I know that when they get the CD theyve got to be proud of it. So I want them to be proud of it not just to say we did that, it was great fun and we had a laugh. Its not good enough.
But despite Garrys insistence, its not all hard work. I like Garry, he makes singing fun, one of the boys divulges. His group of friends hastily agree and enthusiastically demonstrate to me some of the comical faces Garry apparently makes at them to keep their spirits high.
Striking the right balance between fun and challenge is the foundation of the choirs success. Its also one of the reasons the choir is single sex.
The only way to get boys to sing is to get boys away from girls, Garry explains. Boys will only respond to this kind of thing if there is a challenge and street cred. We dont do namby-pamby pieces; we dont sing about flowers in the springtime. Songs are selected for range, challenge and for language. Not for cuteness. Songs that they will be proud to sing in front of people.
Singing for an audience is an important part of being in the choir. And is what the boys appear to enjoy most. Since forming, they have performed alongside the prestigious choir of New College Oxford, at the Symphony Hall and St Chads Cathedral in Birmingham and across various venues in Warwickshire. And theres lots more excitement to come, including a chorister tour to Warwicks French twin town of Saumur.
Talking about what they are most looking forward to about the trip to France, the knee-jerk response from the boys was a boisterous: playing billiards on the billiards table. And Garry would be pleased, rather than disappointed by this response. He is keen that the boys keep their
attitude to singing in perspective and not make singing the only thing they do; he believes singing shouldnt be a substitute for sport and other hobbies.
I want the boys to view singing as normal, he explains. I dont want singing to be special to them. I want it to be something they do all of their lives as part of what theyre able to do in life. I wouldnt dream of music being the only thing I do and I want music to be something they have as part of themselves.
Being part of the choir and performing well, however, is clearly important to the boys. Proving, not only that boys do sing, but given the right direction and challenge they can also sing really well and enjoy it. For them the CD is not just a cute personal touch, its about building the future of the choir. With wisdom beyond his years, one boy explained: If we sell CDs more people will think if we can do it, they can do it and join the choir too.
For more information on the choir and Warwickshire County Music Service visit www.musicforlife.net, where you will also find details of how to purchase the recently released CD.