by Mike Telin
According to American Boychoir music director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, the title for the Princeton, New Jersey-based ensemble’s upcoming tour, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” reflects exactly why its members join. “The boys come to the American Boychoir School because they love singing,” Malvar-Ruiz said during a recent telephone interview. “In many cases they just can’t stop singing. Their parents tell me that they sing all of the time.”
On Friday, April 15 at 7:00 pm at Christ Church Episcopal in Oberlin, and on Sunday, April 17 at 4:00 pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Malvar-Ruiz will lead The American Boychoir in a program ranging from music by Felix Mendelssohn to Samuel Barber, to folksongs from around the world and traditional American hymns and spirituals. The Oberlin Choristers’ Jubilate Musica choir will perform as special guests during the Friday performance, and the two choirs will combine for a grand finale. Both events are free. A free-will offering will be collected to help support the choir’s touring expenses.
The American Boychoir School offers admissions throughout the year. Auditions for interested boys in grades three through seven will be held immediately following each performance. Click here for more information about the admissions process.
In our interview, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz noted that the program celebrates the most universal human cultural activity, which is singing. “Every culture sings, and every culture sings with a different voice,” he said, “and we are trying to capture those voices.”
The program is centered around James Q. Mulholland’s setting of the hymn tune How Can I Keep From Singing. “I looked at quite a few settings of the hymn but I liked his the most. It’s a beautiful, luscious arrangement.” Malvar-Ruiz said. “I’ve taken each verse of the text and used it as a point of departure for the program. Every section will be introduced by a verse from the hymn sung a cappella by a soloist, and that becomes the program’s unifying element. Between those verses we’ll be singing music by Purcell and Britten, as well as music from the Amazon Rainforest, Australia, and Africa.”
When asked if the boys are having fun with the repertoire, Malvar-Ruiz chuckled. “They are. In the Amazon piece they have to sound like animals from the Rainforest, and if you tell a group of teenage boys to sound like a monkey, they’ll really embrace it.”
The tour marks Malvar-Ruiz’s 53rd expedition with the choir, and he said that touring in the spring comes with its own set of challenges. “At this time of the year the choir is very different from the choir in the fall. With teenage boys there are physical and psychological changes that come with puberty, so we have many more low voices than at the beginning of the school year. That makes it a bit more challenging to find the right repertoire. It’s also a challenging process for them to find comfort in their new voices.” At the same time, Malvar-Ruiz pointed out that because they have been together all year, by springtime the choir is more seasoned musically as an ensemble. “It’s a lot of work, but luckily the boys are extremely professional and well-behaved, so touring is a joy. I wouldn’t have done it that many times if it wasn’t fun.”
The tour coincides with the premiere of Hear my Song, a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in which the Choir appears and for which they recorded the soundtrack. The movie will air on CBS on Saturday, April 16 at 8:00 pm (*see note at the bottom of this article.)
Hear my Song, directed by François Girard (of The Red Violin) introduces Garrett Wareing as Stet, a troubled but talented boy who ultimately achieves success beyond his wildest dreams.
When young Stet arrives at the boarding school that’s home to the country’s leading boys choir (The National Boy Choir), he’s lonely and shunned by others. He’s intimidated by the Choir’s demanding conductor (Dustin Hoffman), but nurtured by the school’s principal (Kathy Bates) and a young teacher (Kevin McHale). The film also stars Eddie Izzard, Josh Lucas, and Debra Winger.
Mike Telin: When we last spoke you had just finished shooting the film. Did the boys have fun making it?
Fernando Malvar-Ruiz: That would be an unmitigated YES! Even when there were difficult work days, they learned how hard it is to make a film. When the shooting was finished, many said that they will never see a movie the same way. They learned how much work there is behind every thirty seconds of film — the rehearsals, the 30 to 50 takes. Despite all of the hard work they did enjoy the process very much. The cast was incredibly gracious with the boys as well. Dustin and Kathy and the cast were incredibly gracious with the boys and very generous with their time.
MT: The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful.
FMR: François Gerard and I started working on the soundtrack over three years ago, a full year and a half before the movie was actually shot: we needed to find just the right pieces.
MT: The movie is very inspirational.
FMR: I kept telling the boys throughout the process that this is not a documentary of the American Boychoir, it is a Hollywood film. But I have to say that François did a wonderful job, and I learned a lot by working with him. It’s amazing how many creative pressures you have when directing a film: the producer wants something, the actors want something, and the script writer wants something else as well. As I said, he did an amazing job. You could see the love that he has for boychoir music, and for the American Boychoir.
The soundtrack is available on iTunes.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 13, 2016.
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