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High and Clear Voices Heard Around the World


(Photo - Geof Nesossi)

(Photo – Geof Nesossi)

The Fort Bend Boys Choir celebrates its 35th anniversary

By Mara Soloway

Before the 32 members of the Tour Choir of the Fort Bend Boys Choir begin their weekly Sunday practice, they gather in the First United Methodist Church Missouri City practice area. Living up to the adage “boys will be boys,” the 9- to 14-year-olds are energetic, laughing, cajoling and playful. But once they stand at attention and begin their warm-up exercises, their energy turns to creating the pure, distinctive high and clear sounds that come only from a boys treble choir – one made up of those whose voices have not yet changed.

William Adams, 64, knows that sound well. He founded the choir in 1982 and is its artistic director and director of the Tour and Cantabilé Choirs. Back then, Adams was a practicing child psychologist in Houston who had seen the power of music himself from singing in the Phoenix Boys Choir. “I felt the empowerment that music gave me as an 11- and 12-year-old boy and a troubled youth,” he recalls. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in psychology and vocal performance from Northern Arizona University and a masters in psychology from Arizona State University.

Adams had the idea to start the choir, thinking, “Why not? I’ll never know if I don’t try.” Despite some friends telling him that Fort Bend boys were too interested in sports to join the choir, he was encouraged by County Judge Jodie Stavinoha; the Fort Bend ISD Super­intendent, Laurence Elkins; John and Diana Null; and the Fort Bend ISD Board President, Norm Mason – all of whom had sons who were charter members of the choir – among many other supporters.

The Fort Bend Boys Choir has grown from its initial 45 members into five performing ensembles with about 170 choristers at all levels: the Training, Town, Tour and Cantabilé Choirs and a beginners program, Music Magic. It is one of the largest boys treble choir programs in the world. Among the choir’s national highlights are performing before three U.S. presidents, including at the first White House national Christmas tree lighting after 9-11; at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo; and with significant acts such as Audra McDonald, the Manhattan Transfer, and the U.S. Marine Band. It was fitting that the choir sang at the North American premiere of Les Choristes (The Chorus) a powerful movie about how music can affect children.

The choir’s international highlight was the opportunity to sing for Pope John Paul II in the Sistine Chapel in 2002 as part of their 20th anniversary tour and a National Geographic special. The choir wasn’t sure if the Pope was in his place behind a red curtain. After the choir performed two songs a cappella – Ave Maria and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring – Adams felt someone tap on his shoulder. Expecting to be told to leave, he was amazed to hear the Pope wanted to hear another song. He had indeed been in the chapel.

“I selected John Holiday, who is now one of my best friends, to be the soloist on Panis Angelicus, a communion song. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house including mine,” Adams said. “It certainly one of the highlights of my career to be in that place at that time with that man, and showcase a bunch of boys from Texas on an international stage.”

One of the strongest adjectives Adams uses to describe the choir’s success over 35 years is grateful.

“I’m grateful for parents that trust our organization to put their boys in it, and I’m grateful for the community that works to get more boys in the choir, support us financially and attend our concerts. Almost 6,000 boys have gone through our program, and for a choir institution dealing with only boys that’s quite an accomplishment,” Adams said. He feels many boys choirs fold up long before the 35-year point because society says boys shouldn’t sing in high tones.

“We tell them this is how boys are supposed to sing. They know that every boy is in the same position they are,” Adams said. “A lot of them say they don’t care what people say because of what they’ve gained from the program – going to Switzerland for two weeks, singing at a presidential inauguration or singing in the Sistine Chapel for the Pope. So they get it.”

The choir also dispels the notion that classical music isn’t cool. “Some of it is the most energetic and exciting and complex music that there is, especially the a cappella pieces. By the time the boys get up to the Tour Choir, they are loving it – they love to dig into a three-part a cappella motet by Bach or Handel. They say, ‘I like to hear it when we sing, I like to hear the harmonies,’ ” Adams said.

Although Adams quit his psychology practice 15 years ago to devote his energies to managing the choir, he never stops putting that training to use. “What I have found is that children don’t know something is difficult unless we say so. If you tell them, ‘Here is the music, here’s how it goes,’ they fall into it. That is the innocence and beauty of children, and that’s how we approach the choir. With that come the lessons in pride and self esteem.” In quiet moments, the boys talk openly about anything, including the painfully poignant aspects of their lives. “Here you can take your mask off and no one is going to disrespect you,” Adams said. “The neatest thing is that you’re with other boys that like what you do and still like football and Minecraft and being studious.”

Out of this sharing of personal lives comes friendships, some lifelong. “It’s delightful to see them move from chorister to student to adult and then bring their own sons to the choir,” said Adams, who has hired several previous choristers to work for the choir. The director of the training choir, Jason Ritchie, is one of the choir’s success stories.

Four months after Ritchie, now 33, joined the choir, Adams let him know that due to his voice changing range, he soon would need to leave the choir. “It was then I realized how much music, singing and this organization meant to me. He was right about my voice, but not about me leaving. Here I am, almost 20 years later, and I’ve been a choirboy, an alumni chorister, an accompanist, a protégé, a clinician, a director, a recruiter, a seed planter and a difference maker,” Ritchie said.

“I owe much of my life to Bill Adams and the Fort Bend Boys Choir, and I cannot imagine where I would be without them.”

Ritchie attended the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in piano and a certification for teaching.   He teaches music at Griffin Elementary in Katy. “The passion for music has now taken over my entire life. It is my livelihood, my passion and my purpose.”

Boys’ love of singing hasn’t changed over time, but society and parental expectations have. Ritchie has brought many boys to the organization, but not without much effort. “Once parents understand that we teach not just music – but utilize it as a tool to make a difference in each boy and in our world, the time commitment rarely becomes an issue,” Ritchie said.

The choir is a vehicle for boys to find their voice in more ways than one. While most boys won’t have music careers, each will always be a good singer and have good memories.

“Our boys leave the choir and become highly successful, productive members of society ­– inspiring, creating and positively influencing their world. I’ve seen boys come to us just because their parents wanted them to sing and become shining stars filled with the joy of music. I’ve seen boys come from less than favorable home life situations and find themselves and their purpose,” Ritchie said.

“And I’ve seen boys come to us who needed a friend and, instead, found a family. Our choir’s history is chock-full of success stories of all kinds.”

This includes the choir itself. For the past 35 years, the Fort Bend Boys Choir has been growing just like the boys it serves. Like the message in the choir’s signature song, Dream a Dream, Adams instills in the boys how precious life is and to not let anyone dictate who or what you are.

“It’s always about the boys’ potential and striving for better. I ask them, ‘Where’s your music?’ ” Adams said. “The music is them.”

 

HEAR THE FORT BEND BOYS CHOIR!

To hear the Fort Bend Boys Choir, visit fbbctx.org to find audio and video clips and see CDs available for purchase. To hear live performances, be sure to attend one of these upcoming events:

  • SUNDAY MAY 7, 5 p.m., the Tour Choir performs at First United Methodist Church Missouri City as part of its Friends of the Arts program.
  • Saturday, May 13, 7 p.m., all choirs perform at the Fort Bend Boys Choir’s 35th Anniversary Spring Concert at Grace Presbyterian Church.
  • Sunday, May 21, 2 p.m., the Tour Choir performs Carmina Burana with the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra at the Stafford Centre.

 

Bayeux Cathedral, 2012 France Tour. (Photo - Leannah Thurman)

Bayeux Cathedral, 2012 France Tour. (Photo – Leannah Thurman)

 

Performing the National Anthem at the Houston Texans opening season game at NRG Stadium, August 2013. (Photo - Leannah Thurman)

Performing the National Anthem at the Houston Texans opening season game at NRG Stadium, August 2013. (Photo – Leannah Thurman)

 

Dr. Dominique Røyem, music director and conductor of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, leads the boys through Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The boys choir will perform as part of FBSO’s 25th anniversary season on May 21 at the Stafford Centre. (Photo - Mara Soloway)

Dr. Dominique Røyem, music director and conductor of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, leads the boys through Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The boys choir will perform as part of FBSO’s 25th anniversary season on May 21 at the Stafford Centre. (Photo – Mara Soloway)

 

Performance of “Basil the Cat,” 2016 Minnesota Tour. (Photo - Leannah Thurman)

Performance of “Basil the Cat,” 2016 Minnesota Tour. (Photo – Leannah Thurman)

 

The staff of the Fort Bend Boys Choir, (bottom row, l-r): Rose Collins, Town Choir Director; William R. Adams, Founder/Artistic Director Tour Choir; and Tiana Mortimer, Executive Director. (Top row: ) Sheri Lindsey, Training Choir Accompanist; Pamela Connolly, Tour Choir Accompanist; Jason Ritchie, Training Choir Director; and Reba Cook, Town Choir Accompanist. (Photo - Terri Cannon, Spider Cannon Photography)

The staff of the Fort Bend Boys Choir, (bottom row, l-r): Rose Collins, Town Choir Director; William R. Adams, Founder/Artistic Director Tour Choir; and Tiana Mortimer, Executive Director. (Top row: ) Sheri Lindsey, Training Choir Accompanist; Pamela Connolly, Tour Choir Accompanist; Jason Ritchie, Training Choir Director; and Reba Cook, Town Choir Accompanist. (Photo – Terri Cannon, Spider Cannon Photography)

 

Card tricks, a Rubik’s Cube, electronic games and general fun taking place before choir practice. (Photo - Mara Soloway)

Card tricks, a Rubik’s Cube, electronic games and general fun taking place before choir practice. (Photo – Mara Soloway)


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