Stunning Christmas Music CD – St. Paul’s Boys Choir, Harvard

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Last year I had a wonderful experience at Harvard University as the celebrant for a Solemn Mass at St. Paul’s, which has the only Catholic Boys Choir School in these United States. It was a special occasion for them, too, as it turned out. They had cleaned out the choir loft and actually sang from the choir loft, which hadn’t been used for a very long time. I was told that the boys were pretty excited about being up there.

And it sounded glorious.  There are video clips of that Mass HERE  Fathers Jay Finelli and Thomas Kocik were there in choir!  Bloggers both.

I think that video from that very Mass was recently used in a TV serious about the Extraordinary Form.

The St. Paul’s Boys Choir has a CD of Christmas music.   It is available also in MP3.

UK link HERE

Here is a promo video about the choir.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQau6UJ8amQ&feature=player_embedded

There’s nothing quite like a boys choir for purity of sound.

It might seem early, but I start planing my Christmas list early so I can focus on Advent later.

Also, early support of this disc would be great!

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29 Responses to Stunning Christmas Music CD – St. Paul’s Boys Choir, Harvard

  1. Supertradmum says:

    I linked you to my blog, Fr. Z. Thanks for the heads-up. This type of music is my favorite and one thing I miss terribly about not being able to pop into Westminster Cathedral or other churches in England.

    I am so glad this is in the States for some to see and hear.

  2. Papabile says:

    I just saw this. I cried.

  3. incredulous says:

    Father, thank you for the introduction to another beautiful aspect of Catholicism and the glorification of God through this expression of beauty.

  4. MarthaiinCalifornia says:

    I always wondered if boys choirs would sound purer than girls choirs. Doesn’t seem like they should, but maybe the discipline is much longer in development th boys.

    [The boys voices already have the potential to be something bigger. I think that is what lends a special quality to them.]

  5. Matt Robare says:

    St Paul’s is my parish. There are something like 30 people in RCIA with me. I think they’re doing something right.

    Juventutem Boston has been organizing EF Masses there and on Tuesday there’s one for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. They’re bringing in a Renaissance choral group to do William Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices.

  6. VexillaRegis says:

    Very nice indeed! Great potential there! However, they still have a long way to go to achieve perfection. The next thing the choir master should be doing is teaching the boys to sing with a free voice. At the moment they press their vocal chords too much, because their support is not flexible. That will probably also take care of their second most obvious problem, namely the sliding, wich is most obvoius in the unison soprano frases. If your larynx isn’t free (due to a hard support) you are less likeky to avoid a “portamento”.

    In this video from a masterclass your marvellous American mezzo Joyce Di Donato teaches a student how not to scream and squeeze. Everybody should see this – she is soo good (and entertaining)! At 10.45 she adresses the breathing-support, but loook at the entire video!

    Good luck to the Harvard Boys!

  7. VexillaRegis says:

    Oh, I forgot the link, enjoy! : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYDjmUrXXN4

  8. VexillaRegis says:

    Sorry for all my spelling mistakes today…

  9. ofHippo says:

    This is such a great happening for not only The Church but for the culture at large. Talk about putting Christ in Christmas through the eyes and voices of young boys- a unique tribute to the Infant King! In Harvard Square!
    Would be great if those who have been transformed by Truth and beauty could all rally around this beautiful group and recording.
    note: To pick it apart and compare to a female soprano seems incredibly strange and picky(almost personal?). What are your credentials? The Choirmaster as one can see from the video grew up in the boys choirs in London- trained in ways I’m sure none of us on the combox were/are- can we leave it to the professionals? He (choirmaster) explains in this interview here that he has developed a technique with a bit of an edge and does everything but say he does not want to turn them into “girly boys” (w/Sheila L. http://relevantradio.streamguys.us/ACL/ACL20141002.mp3. The interview begins around the 29-minute mark)…the fact that this will be released internationally and people have been brought to tears- not to mention it looks as though after Fr. Z was instrumental in them dusting off the choir loft it looks as if they are now using it (from this video)…plus the other comment here form someone who actually is a boots on the ground at St. Paul’s..this is very very promising! We are all looking for something positive and uplifting right now (aren’t we?)- and to see it coming out of Harvard Square where we saw Black Mass nightmare this year not to mention as we speak- druids are handing out coupons for how to check one’s brain (and soul) at the myriad of crazy rabbit holes du jour…this might be something to keep an eye on and refrain from subjective critical commentary… And a little known fact- the Vicar General of the diocese of Boston apparently graduated from this very choir school- so perhaps this could have the trickle up down and all around affect plus ripple beyond Boston..if it hasn’t already. Happy to support this music and hope this becomes very successful. Sometimes it helps to see the forest through the trees! Thank you Fr. Z for posting!!

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear ofHippo,
    if you are referring to my post and not to that by Marthaiincalifornia, my answer is that I am indeed a professional singer and organist (MA), with decades of training and experience in choir directing and schooling of voices, including a boys choir (I’m in Europe). Of course I didn’t mean that the boys should sound like a female soprano (that would be a physiological impossibility!!) – no, I used her video to illustrate the *difference* between a free voice and a pressured one.

    This is what a really stunning boys choir sounds like, Ubi caritas sung LIVE from the royal wedding 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQE4ryqdvMg Free, effortless, male ;-) heavenly!

  11. ofHippo says:

    Dear VexillaRegis-

    I do not agree with your premise! To coin a phrase!
    This post was shining the spotlight on the only Catholic boys choir school in the US- it is technically and incredibly beautiful. If you think otherwise perhaps you should ask Fr. Z to post on your preferred sopranos and techniques and boys choir instead using a gorgeous recording to detract from one that is having their moment and comeuppance. Your comments read as negative and as a colleague of a brilliant and quite humble choirmaster- I would think you would not be so detracting. Again your “preference” is subjective.

  12. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear ofHippo, I’m sorry that you seem to take this discussion personal. Also, it wasn’t my intention to come off as raining on their parade. As I said, the “Harvard boys choir ” has a great potential! In the World of Classical music, (and on this site), we are used to express our professional opinions. Musicians strive for musical excellence and we are happy when other artists improve and perfect their performance!!!

  13. ofHippo says:

    Dear VexillaRegis- Still do not agree with your premise! This recording is clearly going to be gorgeous, you are bringing your subjective technical drill down to a youtube video you’ve just watched on a website endorsing a beautiful and excellent recording. With certainty when you have your debut international release as this choirmaster is about to have with these obviously accomplished boys under his direction, you will be congratulated from this blogger (who has at least equal credentials by the way). Is it then personal for you when someone debates whether or not your critiques may or may not “improve” their performance? Subjective! I do not believe your comments indicate that you represent carte blanche the gold standard for musical excellence. You must see the touch of hubris in trying to assert you may hold the golden all knowing approach? Until you have been tapped as such, then, I will happily opine this Christmas album to be gorgeous. You are entitled to your opinions. +PAX!

  14. PostCatholic says:

    St Paul and later, St John the Evangelist in Cambridge were my home parishes when I was Catholic. I offer the clarification, if Rev Zuhlsdorf will permit it, that while St Paul’s Choir School (fka “The Archdiocesan Choir School) is in Harvard Square it is not affiliated with nor sponsored by Harvard. Its students are not “Harvard Boys.” They are Catholic boys from the greater Boston area. St Paul’s Parish is, however, the home of the Harvard Catholic Center, recognized by Harvard as its Catholic chaplaincy.

  15. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear ofHippo, I don’t understand your anger – maybe that is a matter of cultural difference.
    I’m curious to know if you really think the “portamenti” in the soprano part (in O magnum) belong there? Or maybe my sound card is defective. Anyway, I think we will have to agree to disagree and that we both wish this fine choir every success in the future. Peace!

  16. ofHippo says:

    VR-Absolutely no anger meant. You may have mistaken one’s disagreeing with your opinion(which yes, I still do)… for anger? Let’s take away agreement with your final sentiment of wishing this beautiful recording success..here, there and everywhere “portamento” and all! Deo Gratias!

  17. VexillaRegis says:

    ofHippo, Good! It’s not always the easiest thing to determine another person’s tone of voice in internet discussions. :-) S.D.G.

  18. ofHippo says:

    :)

  19. chantgirl says:

    VexillaRegis is right – the voices should be less constrained- but we are talking about fine-tuning an instrument that is already beautiful. Most parishes (and choir directors) could only dream about having so many beautiful boys’ voices to enjoy! I will get the cd.

  20. acardnal says:

    I noted Scot Landry in the video discussing his son who is one of the boys in the choir. He just MUST be the brother of Fr. Roger J. Landry of the diocese of Fall River, MA! The hair – or lack of it – and that inimitable Boston accent are just two reasons. ;-)

    Here is Father Landry’s blog: http://catholicpreaching.com/

  21. VexillaRegis says:

    Thanks, dear chantgirl!

  22. Charivari Rob says:

    Coming late to the discussion…

    Acardnal – yes, Scot Landry is the brother of Father Roger Landry. Scot is involved in many good works of the Archdiocese here, including a run as host of a locally-produced radio program, The Good Catholic Life

    PostCatholic – thank you, you beat me to it in clarifying choir school, St Paul’s Parish and Harvard University identity. (My wife and I were chuckling a bit at the probably very deliberate and careful choice of more Boston establishing shots (Public Garden, etc…) than Cambridge – Harvard Square establishing shots)

    VexillaRegis – just my two cents’ worth, but I’m puzzled about the relevance of the “masterclass” clip you linked. She’s analyzing an adult male singing one style of music. These are boys’ voices*, some of them very new to organized & choral singing, and a different style of music.

    (* Except, of course, for the men that sing with them on some pieces, as seen in the video)

  23. FranzJosf says:

    In defence of VexillaRegis (I’m a choral conductor, too): I think that he is simply commenting on aspects of vocal production that are true for any voice, regardless of sex, musical style, or vocal range. There are many schools of thought on the subject, Though I haven’t heard either choir live recently, there used to be two different boy choir sounds right down the street from each other. In Cambridge, England, one could attend Evensong at King’s College at 4:30, then walk down the street to St. John’s for Evensong at 6:00. The sound of the boys was quite different,

    The choir at St. Paul’s is a work in progress, as most boys choirs are. Give the choirmaster another year or two, and you’ll hear more change. In the mean time, they’re doing a wonderful job.

  24. MariaK says:

    My last year at Harvard was the Choirmasters first at St. Paul. The music was the solace of my soul and I am eternally grateful to them. I visited St. Paul in May and noticed microphone stands going from the floor up into the choir loft and I actually said to the ladies I was with that I had always prayed someone would record these boys! This video puts the pieces together with the young new choirmaster. I am so grateful that the world will now have a chance to hear what true beauty is emanating from the choir loft!

    I watched the promo video above that Fr. Z posted and then went to St Paul’s website:

    http://stpaulchoirschool.com
    And was able to hear samples from the record and must agree with Fr. Z – Stunning! STUNN-ING!

  25. I am surprised that we only have just 1 Catholic boys choir school in the whole United States (I thought there was at least one more, but I was wrong. I know that the Anglican tradition has a big history of men and boys choirs. Perhaps we might get another Catholic boys choir school here in the US if one that is run by the Anglicans joins the ordinariate.

  26. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Charivari Rob & others,

    sorry for my late answer to you (weekends tend to be hectic for organists and choir directors…). Dear FranzJosf has already made a perfect reply: ” I think that he is simply commenting on aspects of vocal production that are true for any voice, regardless of sex, musical style, or vocal range.” Exactly what I was trying to say, thank you! :-) BTW, I’m a woman :-)

    Dear PostCatholic, sorry, St. Paul’s Boys Choir it is!

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    I would like to enter the fray for a moment, regarding the vocal techniques of the boys.

    ofHippo wrote, in regards to VexillaRegis’s comments about the boy’s vocal technique:

    “This post was shining the spotlight on the only Catholic boys choir school in the US- it is technically and incredibly beautiful. If you think otherwise perhaps you should ask Fr. Z to post on your preferred sopranos and techniques and boys choir instead using a gorgeous recording to detract from one that is having their moment and comeuppance. Your comments read as negative and as a colleague of a brilliant and quite humble choirmaster- I would think you would not be so detracting. Again your “preference” is subjective.”

    Musicians listen to music differently than the general public and teaching musicians, moreso. Would you expect Steven Spielberg to view a movie the same as Sally Jones? They both may enjoy the movie, but, knowing how movies are made, Spielberg may have a more enlightened appreciation of the techniques, aesthetics, and history involved in the process. Likewise, should music critics be limited to a like or dislike button on Facebook? The very fact that they have special training entitles them to an elevated and specialist’s opinion, which, in appropriate circumstances (and a comment box is for comments, after all) they may share. VexillaRegis never said she didn’t appreciate the recording and was not detracting from the performance in a moral sense. She was making an analytical observation based upon her training. Is that subjective? Perhaps, but it is less subjective and more tempered by experience than simply saying that the recording is stunning.

    When one reads the back of a record label or the book in a CD, one, very seldom, hears comments that a practical muisical can use. To say that,”X’s flowing style is perfect for the music,” tells nothing to a musician about how he or she might achieve the same results. Musicians discuss these sorts of things among themselves and spend years thinking about them. There are other musicians on this blog who read the comments. I see no reason why someone who specializes in this sort of music should not be allowed to share her expertise with the other readers. Musicians who are advanced enough are experienced enough to realize that there are different schools of thought about performances and take the comments as such – the opinion of one school of thought. That doesn’t mean that the performance isn’t very good. It means that it should not be taken as THE standard. This is an analytical discussion.

    It is true that this post was a sort of advertisement for the CD and, no doubt, it will be greatly appreciated by all, including musicians of a different school of thought, but one may appreciate a performance without being starry-eyed about it. Benny Goodman and Robert Marcellus both recorded the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and both are technically proficient, but if one is a clarinet player, might not one say that both are very good, but that Marcellus captures the essence better? Is that detraction? No. It is a prudential judgment.

    I appreciate learning about vocal techniques and it, in no way, makes me think any less of the performances of the boys choir. I am both a musicologist and a performer, with a doctorate in performance and expertise in musical acoustics, so I have some experience in making musical judgments. In terms of technique, of course, the boys choir is wrong. All modern boys choirs are wrong. Being a musical purist, I think that, given the chance, one should be able to hear the music in its original setting, with original instruments or vocal techniques. I, also, think that music has a right to develop and that music can be re-interpreted and informed, within reason, by more modern techniques. What people are hearing on this recording is a modern performance with modern techniques. It is great for what it sets out to do, but, make no mistake, this is not how the music originally sounded. Indeed, such a performance can never be heard in modern times, because most of these pieces were written when Just Intonation was in use, the tuning was about 5 Hz higher, and the choir in the best of circumstances, would be a mixed choir of boys and Castrati.

    So, I am happy to promote the CD for its excellence and, also, discuss the performances in order to learn from them with regards to their technique, aesthetics, and history. There should be room enough for both to be done in a comment box. There are, after all, very few sites where one would have the opportunity to discuss Catholic music (or at least music performed by a Catholic Choir) on the Internet in such depth.

    The Chicken

  28. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Chicken,
    thank you! I agree completely with you and to be honest, I was surprised by Mr/Mrs diHippo’s comment, since we are used to be able to freely and thoroughly discuss the subject of any post Fr. Z makes, provided it has an open combox.

    As you pointed out, there are no castrati anymore (thankfully), children go into puberty years earlier than just 100 years ago, the temperature (tuning) was much more diverse in ancient times, and so on and so forth – i.e., the circumstances, standards and ideals have changed quite a lot in the last, say, three centuries. Have you, for instance, ever heard the Vox humana (Human voice) stop in a baroque organ? It sounds like a goose, very pressured and somewhat shrill. Imagine Palestrina sung by an entire choir of geese… SOOO:
    You have to navigate carefully when you decide how you are going to school your choir. My No1 priority is to teach the children how to sing without harming their voices and getting hoarse. The key is an adequate breathing technique.

  29. Elizabeth R says:

    VexillaRegis, thank you for the link; that’s an inspiring Masterclass!