By Donna Hill
For The Fort Bend Star
‘“You’ve got to carry through – you can’t take a breath. Make your statement! In unison, one and two…”
The cadence sounds like it could be in a course in perseverance, dedication and commitment. Yet it sounds familiar to a gifted group of young choirboys.
But they’re not just any boy’s choir. The Fort Bend Boy’s Choir is the largest independent boys choir in the world.
They appear with major opera companies and symphony orchestras in cathedrals and concert halls both nationally and internationally. They’ve performed for three U.S. Presidents. The Tour Choir was chosen as the only choral group in the United States to perform in Washington, D.C. for the lighting of the national Christmas tree for the 2001 Christmas Pageant of Peace with first lady Laura Bush and President George W. Bush.
A news story about the performance received a nomination for an Emmy Award. Locally, the award-winning choir has performed at The Summit, Wortham Center and Jones Hall. They’ve also sung at The National Cathedral and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Westminster Abbey in England, St. Peter’s Basilica and The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
The Fort Bend Boy’s Choir of Texas, founded in 1982 by Artistic Director William R. Adams is unique. Echoing the company’s history, Adams sees each singer “as a unique, gifted child first, then as a collective chorister in our choirs.”
“It has been my privilege over the years to watch each one of our singers grow from a small, unsure choirboy into a confident, mature young man. And no matter what chosen field they end up pursuing … that assurance and confidence never leaves them,” he said.
Adams loves the music.
“I started out singing in the boys choir as a child and loved it,” he said. “Minored in voice and music later in college, and received my degree in psychology and became a childhood and adolescent therapist for 22 years. When I moved to Houston, I was the assistant director and coach for the Singing Boys of Houston. I met my wife (who worked as a teacher from Fort Bend Independent School District) and we settled here in Fort Bend.
“I wondered whether there would be any interest in the area for a boys choir. I contacted (then FBISD superintendent) Lawrence Elkins, and he loved the idea. We received sponsorship in schools, and Norm Mason, the school board president at the time, and his 9-year-old son, Stephen, liked the idea as well.”
Sugar Creek Baptist Church hosted the newly formed choir’s first rehearsal of 45 students. Today there are 150 students. As the largest treble boys choir in the nation, music ranges from patriotic, classical, folk and pop. Adams is keenly aware that the lyrics are as important as the music.
“Are the words meaningful? Uplifting? Can the audience relate?” he asked.
He is also focused on the impact of music with his young choir members.
“Music is a vehicle that we use to teach self-esteem, how they can feel good about themselves and the singing they do,” Adams said.
His favorite quote, which both his current and former students often hear, is “To whom much is given, much is expected.” His students call these “Adam-isms.”
Adams remains convinced despite the many changes in the world, he is comforted by the fact that singing in the choir hasn’t changed much over the years.
“Week after week, boys come together where there is order and safety. They’re not afraid to express their emotions through singing,” he said.
Most young boys will join the choir from elementary school and stay until their voice changes. Yet there are steps along the way for performing ensembles. First is Music Magic is for 6- and 7-year-old boys, where there is no audition required, only an interest in music. It’s an eight-week program offered every school semester, and boys develop pitch matching, rhythm awareness and more.
Training Choir is where techniques in phrasing and enunciation are introduced. Choirboys move up to either Town or Tour choirs by audition. The Town Choir focuses on choral techniques like phrasing, enunciation and harmonizing. Getting in is through an audition. Tour Choir, where students learn more complex choral techniques is the next level. Performances include weddings and other appearances, plus a summer concert tour. There’s also Cantabilé, an alumni choir, open to all members who “voiced out” of the training, town and tour choirs.
Several alumni are still involved with the choir group as a parent, which of course now includes a second generation. John DiFelice, who joined in 1995, has a son, Jimmy, who is a current choir member. Although DiFelice doesn’t sing now, he does play an active role in his son’s voice training. He still appreciates not only traveling with the group, but also the skills he learned in his early day’s of the choir.
“Being in the choir builds confidence, plus you make good connections and great friends. Not only did we learn all about music, but also skill sets like etiquette, being on time, training for various tours. I was able to travel to Denmark, Austria and Mexico City,” DeFelice said.
He recalls days of choir schedules, meeting with other choirs around the country, playing with various symphonies and orchestras. Jimmy now does the same, learning in the same way as DiFelice did.
Is it tough doing a choir performance in front of dad?
“I get nervous sometimes, but I really like music a lot,” said the fifth grader. “I make new friends, and learn new languages. Right now I’m learning six new songs and learning German and Latin.”
Jimmy said singing for the elderly at nursing homes is one of his favorite choir events. He said he feels music can “give people hope.”
Along with singing, Jimmy plays the viola at Youngblood Intermediate School in Alief, where he likes science labs and anything that has to do with animals, such as snakes, alligators and tarantulas.
“I feel really blessed to have this voice, and able to use it while meeting interesting people,” Jimmy said.
Like all of the choirboys, Jimmy rehearses twice a week, maintaining high grades, and being actively involved in a variety of community organizations, like church and Scouting.
The choir is celebrating its 35th anniversary season at the Fort Bend Boy’s Choir’s annual Christmas Musicale on Saturday, Dec. 3, at The First United Methodist Church in Missouri City. After the concert, there will be a special holiday reception in honor of the anniversary in the church’s Fellowship Hall. More information is available at their website.
At the end of a long day of singing, the choir is content with their understanding of the music and what it takes to make the music on paper sound good to an audience. Adams then quotes the choir’s mission statement. “Making a difference … one boy at a time.”
For more information about concert schedules, how to get involved, or to hire the boys choir for an event, visit www.fbbctx.org.