Pacific Boychoir to make return to Merced

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comDecember 12, 2013 

  • AT A GLANCE

    WHO: Pacific Boychoir Academy

    WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

    WHERE: Merced Theatre, 301 West Main St.

    COST: Tickets are $24 to $29 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under

It’s been a busy week for the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Boychoir Academy, but a sleek venue is drawing the Oakland-based ensemble to Merced.

“We’re always looking out for top-notch venues that have great acoustics, an aesthetic beauty and also a rock-solid staff,” said Jonathon Hampton, the associate music director at the academy.

Boychoir will return to the Merced Theatre, 301 West Main St., at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $24-29 for adults and $15 for children, and proceeds benefit the Merced Theatre Foundation. The performance comes after the Boychoir this week made the rounds in the Bay Area, and hit the nation’s capital to sing at a service remembering civil rights leader Nelson Mandela.

The choir dates back to 1998, when Director Kevin Fox set out to build a choir with just six boys. The choir now numbers about 120, including the more than 50 who attend the Oakland school’s day program.

The school includes choral music and academics for students in fourth through eighth grade. An after-school choir program provides choir opportunities and training for boys from preschool through high school.

The Pacific Boychoir Academy seeks boys of all ethnic, economic and geographic backgrounds, according to its website, and isn’t affiliated with any church, ethnic group or geographic area.

The choir, made up of boys from ages 10 to 18, won three Grammys for recordings with the San Francisco Orchestra. The boys also have performed in cathedrals and other venues in Russia, China, Argentina and Australia, among others.

The choir also has a relationship with South Africa, where it has performed multiple times with the Drakensberg Boys Choir. The Pacific Boychoir was invited Wednesday to perform in honor of Mandela at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C.

“It’s really an honor for us to perform Mandela’s music for him,” Hampton said. “The boys are absolutely thrilled about the opportunity. They really do understand the gravity of the situation.”

Back in Merced, concert-goers can expect the boys to sing “everything from Bach to the Beatles,” Hampton said. The Christmas program features a number of classical and modern songs.

Hampton said some of the highlights include Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on a Christmas Carol,” the unknown authored “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and José Feliciano‘s “Feliz Navidad.” Hampton said the choir will also sing “Hippopotamus,” a song arranged specifically for the choir by Deke Sharon.

“The boys are so flexible and able to perform so much various music,” Hampton said.

A harpist, flautist and other musicians will accompany Saturday’s performance, which is unique, Hampton said. The Boychoir usually performs live without musical accompaniment.

Continuum, the academy’s ensemble featuring mostly alumni, also will be on stage. The Singers Company, an all-girls choir from Merced, will open the show.

All-boys choirs are a tradition that date back to the 13th century, Hampton said. “It’s a long tradition and a particular sound you get from boys’ voices,” he said. “A lot of music is actually written for boys’ voices.”

As well as being a choir and school for the young men, Hampton said the boys get what many others seek through athletic competition – without any losers.

“They guys really develop a sense of discipline, and they feel teamwork and they get a lot of confidence out of it,” he said. “And, it’s just nice to be around other guys who want to share similar art.”

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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