A humanist training
In the mid eighties, the Ministry of Culture and the inspector Pierre-Yves LEVEL in particular initiated an active revival policy for the Boy Choirs in France.
Having myself been part of the « Maîtrise » of Radio -France, I was convinced of the irreplaceable value of this kind of education, offering young children a unique surrounding to experience music.
It is with this logic in mind that Colmar Conservatoire Director Eugène Maegey and myself conceived the project of creating a « boy choir department », combined with the Conservatoire.
Thanks to the support of the city of Colmar, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, we then were able to work out adapted timetables for the children's school life and music life.
A comprehensive educational project
To be part of the Boy Choir training allows children to be immersed daily in an atmosphere of pure music, the favored tool being the voice; but the educational project is comprehensive. The aim is not only to train children to be just « voices », but also to train them to be musicians.
The working pace, fast and steady makes them independent in the process of learning music, in their studies and I hope in their lives as men.
The choir is not dealt with as a whole, but everyone is addressed personally. Naturally finding where they belong, everyone becomes essential.
This functioning allows everyone (including myself) to completely get involved in work by constantly questioning oneself and adapting.
Once the child understands that his contribution serves the group work's purpose, real efficiency is then possible, despite the high and unrelenting demands. I constantly call upon self-discipline, self-assessment, self-correcting which help everyone to progress on a musical as much as on a human level, for instance, the support the older ones provide to the younger ones.
This comprehensive educational project, giving a sense of responsibilities, respect and mutual trust backs my whole musical project. It's not a matter of elitism - this word that I hear too often still. Of course, from an outside point of view all you see is well behaved and polite children, but to speak of an “elite” would be to forget the work these children accomplish every day. To speak of an "elite" would be forgetting that our recruiting requirements are not very demanding and that any child or man can join the group.
Rich diversity of styles
The children are in contact with music on a daily basis, naturally absorbing the various styles, but sacred music forms the main part of the repertoire- the priority is given to baroque as well as music from the 20th and 21st century. Gregorian being a real bridge between styles, I also like to include some pieces in an otherwise baroque or contemporary concert. And what a better place to find the link between music and lyrics?
I have the constant wish to present little known pieces, for the sake of the adults forming the choir and who often sing in other groups, but mostly for that of the children who are motivated by a varied repertoire. Consequently, at the Boy Choir we don't have stock pieces in our repertoire and the choristers "absorb" a lot of music!
When we perform abroad, we present French music, but I have at heart to sing composers from the country, in their original language. We were able this way to discover wonderful Polish, Chinese, Japanese musicians, and many more.
What about the breaking? And the adults?
It would be oversimplifying to speak only of the children, as the men's choir is also a driving force to this educational and musical training, thanks to several generations coexisting, from young children to adults, some of them retired!
How enriching! From a vocal point of view, we have a very wide range, and the oldest boys act as co-educators. We just have to agree on bedtime…
And how delightful it is when an "old one" whose voice broke comes back to sing in the choir!
The breaking? The more I move forward, the less I know about it. We're soon celebrating our 25th anniversary; which means I experienced many, and still, each breaking is different, as much psychologically as physiologically. An important time to live for the boys and for us accompanying adults because it signals the end of the belonging to the group, which is very strong within the Boy Choir.
A humanist vision
All these young and not so young people are supervised by teachers who believe in this human ideal, and by a team of administrative people who conduct every project with great energy and confidence. The development in which I'm directing the choir is based on this keen wish to lead the children harmoniously towards adulthood, and to make « men who communicate » out of them. Even if this humanist vision of the musician seems utopian, it is towards this that the children's whole education will strive for during their stay at the Boy Choir.
I'm never certain of anything, I explore, I don't always find what I'm looking for, I make mistakes and sometimes I give up. It's only when the “old ones” come back to say hello, only when I see their grateful eyes, that I allow myself a small, a tiny break.