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Pittsburgh Boy Choir open to all faiths

| Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Luca Boudreau sings during the Pittsburgh Boy Choir rehearsal at Northmont United Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evening, Nov. 11, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Luca Boudreau sings during the Pittsburgh Boy Choir rehearsal at Northmont United Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evening, Nov. 11, 2014.
Sarah Wannamaker, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, leads rehearsal at Northmont United Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evening, Nov. 11, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Sarah Wannamaker, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, leads rehearsal at Northmont United Presbyterian Church on Tuesday evening, Nov. 11, 2014.

Ten boys fidgeted, tugged at each other's shirts, chatted and made funny faces.

The members of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir behaved as boys 6 to 11 are apt to do as they rehearsed Tuesday afternoon at Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless.

The tomfoolery was set aside — for the most part — when Artistic Director Sarah Wannamaker instructed the boys to sing “Cradle Carol” in the chancel area of the sanctuary.

Their high-pitched voices soared in unison.

“I like your mood. You gave me the emotion, and that was really wonderful,” Wannamaker said.

The Pittsburgh Boy Choir is the brainchild of Northmont United Presbyterian Church's then-minister of music, Todd Alexander, but the choir is independent of the church, said George Pearsall, the choir's board president and a retired Northgate School District choir director.

In fact, none of the choir's 10 members belongs to the church, Wannamaker said.

“We want to make this a community organization and not a church organization. So we want this to be something that is open to boys of all faiths. We want it to be open to boys of all backgrounds,” Wannamaker said.

In 2012, Alexander approached the church and community leaders about forming the choir, Pearsall said.

The choir incorporated in Pennsylvania and spent about a year-and-a-half getting 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, Pearsall said.

Through support from Northmont, businesses and community leaders, the organization got off the ground, he said.

“It was pretty daunting to start from absolutely nothing — to start with an idea and to have nothing there at all,” he said.

In spring 2013, about 20 boys were chosen from auditions and were ready to start rehearsing in late August, but Alexander left to take a job at a church in Alabama. So the board postponed the start of the choir until the church could find a new minister of music.

Wannamaker, hired in February as Northmont's minister of music, spent seven years as the senior accompanist and assistant for the 175-member Ragazzi Boys Chorus in San Francisco. She became the artistic director of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir in May, Pearsall said.

She wants the Pittsburgh Boy Choir to grow to a size similar to the Ragazzi chorus and feature various training levels, including a changed-voice ensemble, she said.

“The boys need to have the different groups because it gives them something to aspire to. …I also think that what we're doing, we really try to lay a groundwork of love of music, musical sound and musical ability,” Wannamaker said.

The choir sings mostly Christian music, and its first recital, which will feature Christmas music, is planned for 4 p.m. Dec. 7 at Northmont, which donates the rehearsal space, some music from its library and rehearsal instruments, Wannamaker said.

Boy choirs are different from children's choirs in that they provide supportive environments for boys, who typically drop out of choirs by middle school because of their changing voices, Wannamaker said. Boy choirs are rare in the Pittsburgh region, but there are hundreds of them around the country, Pearsall said.

“A boy choir is a pure sound. It's a unique sound. It's much more than just putting a bunch of boys there and singing,” Pearsall said.

During its first year, the choir will focus on training singers. Subsequent years will include training and performing choirs.

Tuition for the choir is $725 for the 2014-15 season.

Pine resident Kevin Kilkeary, 6, successfully auditioned for the choir.

“I just want Kevin to be well-rounded,” said his mother, Julie Kilkeary, 37. “I think it helps teach them respect and reverence … discipline.”

Cranberry resident Luca Boudreau, 6, said he enjoys being in the Pittsburgh Boy Choir because he wants to follow in the musical footsteps of his mother.

“Because my mom plays the cello and she … does a recital, and I sing in it,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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