A choirboy’s schedule would panic some mums and dads. There’s the four before-school rehearsals a week, the two evening Masses, the Sunday services – and that’s before you even factor in large-scale events, Christmas and Easter performances and tours around Europe.
“Choir feels like the main thing I do. School just feels like an extra part of the day,” acknowledged Year 5 chorister Luke Pitts, who has been part of the choir for three years.
But despite the required time commitment, the choir still has plenty of families eager to sign up in its 200th year of operation.
Choristers join the choir in Year 2, some of them not even tall enough to reach the music stands the boys practice with, and most unable to read music.
Within the year, they can sight-sing in harmony in a range of languages, and are ready to perform with industry professionals.
“The education that the boys receive is extraordinary,” said Greg Taylor, whose chorister son Noah has just finished Year 12.
Greg and his wife Lynne are veteran choir parents. Noah is their youngest son and the fourth to go through the choir with the oldest, Benjamin, now 25.
They’ve been very involved the whole time and minimised the hassles of the choir’s busy schedule by building a community of other parents and carpooling together.
Their sons still use the skills they learned at St Mary’s. One is studying music, and others sing at weddings or church events or play the stringed instruments they learned as part of their training.
They’re learning skills for life…all those experiences add up to something that is worth the hassle
Mr Pitts, artistic director of The Song Company and a sometime collaborator with the choir, credits a similar program in the UK with helping expose him to a broad range of music in his early years. He said the musical education on offer, both then and now, is impressive even to an industry professional.
“Luke has a more regular set of rehearsals and services than I did, but it’s the same basic approach, learning a lot of the same repertoire,” he said.
“I learned to love different types of music, particularly some of the 16th century English music and then some of the fast, exciting stuff that often tends to be a bit more modern.”
Despite the ways this education has impacted the rest of his life, Mr Pitts agrees with many parents that the musical education the boys receive isn’t the most important part of their time with the choir.
Squeezing their homework in around rehearsals, learning to perform with adults and being involved in mentoring of younger members are skills that stay with them long after they sing their final notes at school.
“They’re learning skills for life. Over the past two and three-quarter years Luke’s been singing at St Mary’s, he has really blossomed. He’s a very happy boy,” he said.
Greg and his wife Lynne agree. It’s the attitude the choir instilled in their sons that they’re most grateful for.
“The choir developed in all four boys a sense of community and giving back their God-given talent and sharing it with other people” said Lynne.
“All those experiences add up to something that is worth the hassle,” said Mr Pitts.