The Ragazzi Boys Chorus, which debuted in Carnegie Hall in 2014, presented its spring concert, “Gloria,” at Mission Santa Clara on March 25, under the artistic direction of Joyce Keil and associate director Kent Jue. “Gloria” was performed by almost 70 Bay Area boys ages seven to 18, who sang like professionals in an astounding seven languages.
“I’m pretty passionate about all-boy choirs,” said Keil, who co-founded the chorus 30 years ago in 1987 because of the dearth of choral opportunities for boys. “Getting boys and men to sing is always a problem. There is a stigma that singing is for girls, so boys get the short shrift.”
The concert opened with the Gloria from Josef Hayden’s St. Ceclia Mass and Glorias (RV 588 and 589) by Antonio Vivaldi, all in Latin, and selections from J.S. Bach’s Cantata 106 in German. The chorus was accompanied by Othello Jefferson on the organ and piano and instrumentalists on the violin, viola, violoncello, recorder and timpani.
The concert continued with folk songs in Russian, Estonian and Latvian from the Baltic regions that the upper level groups will tour this summer. Chesnokov’s hymn “Salvation is Created” was sung in Church Slavonic by the combined Concert Group and Choral Scholars joined by the Ragazzi Continuo alumni singers.
The last half hour of the 75-minute program was sung by the Continuo singers, who performed more Baltic songs and gave a preview of the “Great American Songbook” music from their May and June concerts (www.ragazzicontinuo.org). The small alumni group, now numbering 11, was formed in 2010 so that graduates could continue to sing together after aging out of the boys chorus.
“The boys chorus was like a team sport, building camaraderie. But also, we made beautiful music,” said Continuo singer Collin Lee, who sang with the chorus for 10 years.
“It’s not cool when you’re younger to be in a boys’ chorus, but we learned to appreciate it. We sang world-class music,” continued Lee, now a Stanford University PhD student in computer science. “We went to Spain, Portugal, Australia and around the U.S.. Being in the chorus was one of the most special things that happened to me in my childhood.”
The Ragazzi Boys Chorus is divided into smaller groups according to experience and voice. The big divide, of course, is between those with unchanged treble voices and the older boys with changed voices.
“There’s a different character to boys’ voices, and it’s so fleeting before voices change. You can’t get the sound anywhere else,” said Executive Director David Jones. “Nobody else can make that precious sound.”
“The boys chorus gives reinforcement that singing is okay for a guy,” said Keil, who hopes to recruit more boys from the South Bay. “The changed voice choir [has] a ‘cool factor’ for the younger kids.”
Ragazzi is Italian for “guy” or friend. In opera, the word designates children’s voices. More than 200 boys from about 100 schools in about 30 Bay-Area communities participate in the non-profit, Redwood City-based, Ragazzi Boys Chorus programs. Training includes music terminology and theory and ear training.
Among the 250 “Gloria” concert attendees were Eugene and Yiming Lit, whose 11-year-old son Luca is a second-year chorister.
“He’s always loved music and started with the school chorus. The level of musicality with Ragazzi is very high,” they said. “All the boys want to be here. It lets them be creative and express their feelings, emotions.”
Before their voices change, catch the Ragazzi Boys Chorus singing “From Sea to Shining Sea” June 11, 5 p.m., in San Mateo. The next auditions are in May. For information, visit www.ragazzi.org.