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Vienna Boys Choir Charms Howard Audience

    Lights dimmed and the crowd hushed; anticipation hung thick in the air. This was no ordinary event at the Howard Performing Arts Center. The building was packed, as was the parking lot—tickets had sold up until the last few minutes—now it was time for the legendary Vienna Boys choir to take the stage. The side door opened and out came… a man? He walked to the piano and played a single chord. Curiosity piqued, the audience looked intently at him.

 

All of a sudden, the voices came, gently and sweetly, then gradually stronger as the Vienna boys walked in single file down the aisles, surrounding the audience with their “Alleluja.” The group of about 30 boys, between four and five feet in height, held the audience in awe—many mouths agape—and the evening was off to a great start.

Their conductor explained that this choir is made up of a diverse collection of boys,  aged 10 to 14 years old, hailing from not only Austria but Japan, South Korea, Slovakia, Mexico and even New Jersey. They were enjoying their stay so far, the conductor reported, especially since they had a pool in the motel—this brought a laugh from the audience.

As they sang in their sailor outfits, the boys expressed both the youthful and professional sides of their personalities—and ultimately their great love and joy in sharing their music. As they sang, they gently swayed back and forth with the music, making expressive faces, raising their eyebrows, leaning forwards in anticipation of certain notes. A stage full of relaxed energy was on display, as the youngsters—some sporting cute cowlicks—would scratch themselves, or smile at each other with impish camaraderie during breaks between songs.

At one point two soloists came forward to sing—it was as if they knew they had a special gift to give us. With chubby cheeks and big eyes, one boy looked up to the ceiling—as if sizing it up—then he aimed his sound there. When they sang, the sound was so fluid and uniform that the audience collectively gasped. Beautiful music, made up of both haunting harmonies and merry melodies—you could close your eyes and imagine that you were in a domed Austrian cathedral. It was so quiet between notes that you could hear the crinkle of a program five or six rows over. When the soloists finished, they smiled at each other, and then bowed in unison. The sweet sound of the boys’ voices was followed by thundering applause.

Ending the first half of the program was a creative rendition of “Hail, Holy Queen.” The boys began with their hands together in a prayerful pose, the piano played the first few chords and the audience murmured as they recognized the tune. Suddenly, half-way into the somber piece, the boys broke out into a lively rhythmic version of the song, complete with tambourine and the audience clapped along, beaming ecstatically. As the grand finale of the song, the smallest boy slide through another boy’s knees, threw up his hands, and enthusiastically cried out the last note.

After an intermission, the boys performed a much more light-hearted and diverse selection of songs. These included hits such as “The Bare Necessities,” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” with the audience laughing as the boys did handstands and cartwheeled across the stage, chuckling as they passionately sang “I’m Ready for Love!” Included in the second half were diverse songs from Bulgaria, South Africa and Prussia, as well as lullabies from Venezuela/Cuba, Mexico and by Rudyard Kipling. For “Duerme Negrito,” a talented choir member from Mexico accompanied the choir plucking his small acoustic guitar, and during “Hlonolofatsa” (Sesotho for “Blessing”) The conductor joined the choir, calling out the verses in typical African style.
    Saved until last were four special songs from the boys’ native Vienna, two complete with yodeling. During “Singa is unsre Freud” (“Singing is our joy”), the audience was even taught how to yodel along with the choir! “Americans are good singers and quick learners,” the conductor stated confidently. “We want you to sing with us in our next song, it’s an easy song, it’s a yodeling song.” When the audience began to laugh in disbelief, he assured us, “I will help you!” After the audience could yodel haphazardly, the conductor added, “If you are wondering what it means…it means nothing,” and everyone laughed. It was much fun to join in with the choir at the conductor’s instruction, singing back the refrain in very broken yodeling. When we finished the conductor confided, “In every state I tell them they are better than the last one, and this time I really mean it!” Of course, we were delighted to hear this praise.

The last song of the program was “Kaiserwaltzer,” otherwise known as “The Emperor Waltz” by Johann Strauss II, which the Vienna Boys’ Choir has been singing since the 1920s. A quintet of choir boys dressed in traditional suspenders and plaid shirts took front stage, delighting the audience with choreographed slap-dancing and yodeling.

However, the evening didn’t end there. After the last song, the audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation, clapping for over two and a half minutes, calling out “Encore, encore!” Obliging, the boys performed another Austrian song, and after a second minute-and-a-half encore, “Shosholoza”. Leaving the audience with raw hands but full hearts and beaming smiles, the boys exited the stage to their busses behind the HPAC. It is rumored that they later spent some quality time at the Andrews Gym’s climbing wall before continuing on from their much-appreciated visit to Berrien Springs.

 

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