Sunday, June 9, 2013

Death of a Boys Choir

By Douglas Neslund

There is no way to sugarcoat it: after 42 years of re-established life under the direction and guidance of John R. Barron, the Pasadena Boys Choir is closing its doors. Mr. Barron’s need to retire at the same time his more-than-able assistant, Bryon Espina’s need to leave the choir program after 30 years of service due to a job opportunity in his “real” career path (pharmaceuticals focused on defeating cancers), and the inability of the leadership of Mr. Barron, Mr. Espina and Mrs. Joanne Dickson to find a music director specialist in the art of Boychoir to take the reins, led to the decision to close up shop.

In Mr. Barron’s remarks to the audience, he cited changes in public school curriculum, the increasing diversification of children’s after-school interests that limit their availability for twice-a-week rehearsals, and the down economy of recent years as the primary causes for a shrinking membership.

Decades ago, the choir boasted a membership of 130 boys and a prominent place in Southern California performing life. Perhaps the highlight of all was the choir’s performance and recording of William Kraft’s Contextures II: The Final Beast with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of AndrĂ© Previn in 1989, recorded on Soundmark Records. 

A 1981 self-published recording of Civil War songs arranged by Alan Boehmer titled “The Union Forever” stands out as a musical highlight in the suite of memories to be found in the choir’s trophy case.

And so they gathered on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino, to hear the boys, bolstered by a dozen choir alumni sing again, to celebrate with friends, alumni and family, and to weep together a little bit.

The music selected by Mr. Espina, who also accompanied at the piano, was a potpourri of tunes performed by the choir over the years, including folksongs, Broadway hits, serious classical works (“Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl), and culminating with Ed Lojeski’s arrangement of Alan Menken and David Zippel’s “Go the Distance.” The single encore, with audience invited to sing-along, was Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s immortal “Edelweiss.”

The singing will continue today, Sunday, June 9, 2013, for the final time. And for one last time, the boys and alums, and their families and friends, will gather after the music stops at the South Pasadena home of Mrs. Dickson, to relive old memories, to re-establish old friendships, to pay homage to those who enriched their lives, and to vow to hold a reunion someday …

A passing mention was made earlier during the concert expressing the hope that “someone” would pick up the pieces and again, re-establish the Pasadena Boys Choir as a rare and precious resource for the Southern California music scene. Mr. Barron will hold open the choir’s IRS non-profit 501(c)(3) status to keep that hope alive.

In the meanwhile, here are eight minutes of memories: