Just a little after four o'clock on April 27, a processional was led into the sanctuary of St. Michael's Episcopal Church sanctuary by banner-carrier Ben Sparrow and the Raleigh Boychoir (Colin Campbell, Head Chorister) marched in to the sound of unaccompanied flute by Hayden McNeill, playing the lovely traditional Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us peace). The formal entrance was charming and set the theme for the afternoon. The choir, once assembled on stage, then sang the words of Dona Nobis Pacem in canon form under the direction of Vicki Oehling. The afternoon ended with a rousing "America the Beautiful" and then "Let There Be Peace On Earth," dedicated by principal conductor Thomas E. Sibley "to those who have been fighting for us." Following the final applause, the organ burst into "The Star Spangled Banner" and we all joined and sang spontaneously, not missing a note as it was played in a good key. The perseverance of this organization is to be applauded in this, its 35th season.
The choirboys themselves seemed to have had the most fun with the syncopated works "I Hear A Voice Calling," by Michael Berg, and "I Hear America Singing," a spiritual. These works changed the color of the performance from the more formal initial presentations. Concluding this group, "This Little Light of Mine," another spiritual, gave the promise that this year's crop of singers could eventually achieve benchmark boychoir vocal clarity.
Earlier, the program offered the Tallis canon, "Glory to Thee, My God This Night." The soft entries of Section One singers could be overlooked as each repetition progressed securely once past the initial timid yet true-pitched beginnings. A group of three hymns was offered, the second being "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," but lack of clear diction left the other two a mystery since they were not noted on the program. The "Alleluia," by Henry Purcell, featured voices that were more like diapasons than boychoir-quality flutes, if I may make a comparison to organ stops.
The main choir dispersed, leaving an elite group that sang the Alleluia from the motet, "Exsultate Jubilate," by Mozart, under the direction of Oehling, who in other instances gave support at the piano. It was lovely. The choir filed back to its place and the next number, conducted by Sibley, was "On This Day," by Giovanni Nanino. This was accompanied on hand drum by a young man named Wilson, not listed in the program. "Laudate Pueri Dominum," by Michael Haydn, began with a labored "alleluia" and broke into joyful praise, yet with unclear diction.
A highlight of the afternoon for me was the featured Resident Choir (boys), conducted by Kevin Kerstetter, Organist and Resident Choir Director at St. Michael's. With a small ensemble of eight youngsters, extremely well trained, at last the sound approximated the purity of boychoir voices that I had waited for. Song after song, I had been listening for the pure flute sound of clear, well-projected vocal pipes admired in the St. Thomas Choir and among the Vienna Boys Choir, but it was never quite achieved by the Raleigh Boychoir. Here in the Resident Choir, at least, the sound approximated lovely stopped flutes.
The lovely afternoon musical was more on the order of a fine public school choral group than that of a professional cathedral boychoir. Nevertheless it was apparent that careful preparation had been made for a unified presentation, resulting in a pleasant afternoon in a lovely sanctuary.