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Cannon named director of Pittsburgh Boy Choir

| Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, 7:31 p.m.
Craig Cannon of O'Hara is the newly appointed artistic director of the McCandless-based Pittsburgh Boy Choir.  The first rehearsal of the 2015-16 season is Sept. 8, 2015.
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Craig Cannon of O'Hara is the newly appointed artistic director of the McCandless-based Pittsburgh Boy Choir. The first rehearsal of the 2015-16 season is Sept. 8, 2015.

Even before Craig Cannon begins his first rehearsal Sept. 8 as the newly appointed artistic director of the McCandless-based Pittsburgh Boy Choir, people are singing his praises.

“He's a fabulous musician. He's charismatic. He's personable. He works so well with young people. He brings out the best in them. He sets a high bar, and students want to work hard to achieve that high bar for him,” said George Pearsall, 69, of McCandless, president of the board of directors for the choir, also known as the PBC.

Sarah Wannamaker of McCandless, associate director of the choir, said “He is super nice and has a good sense of humor.”

She previously had served as the choir's artistic director.

Launched in 2013 and based at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, PBC is a vocal ensemble open, by audition, to boys throughout the Pittsburgh area between the ages of 6 to 12 whose voices have not changed.

Although the choir is housed at Northmont, it is not affiliated with the church.

The group meets weekly for rehearsals and performs for worship services and local events.

Cannon, 62, of O'Hara graduated with a master's degree in choral music from Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., before embarking on a music career that has spanned 40 years.

As director of choral activities at Fox Chapel Area High School for 34 years before retiring, he grew the school choir from 35 students to 165. His choirs were selected to sing at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association state conventions and the American Choral Directors Association Eastern Division convention.

Cannon also has served as director of choral organizations at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, youth choir director at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, and interim music and choir director at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

He directed Duquesne University's Voices of Spirit choral ensemble and Pappert Women's Chorale, and he founded and directs a community-based intergenerational women's choir called Belle Voci.

“This is a new challenge. I've never done an exclusive boys choir. This is a last frontier,” Cannon said.

One of his first priorities for PBC is growing the group, which ended its 2014-15 preparatory season last spring with 10 boys.

Cannon already has auditioned and spoken to five additional boys whom he hopes will join the group this fall.

“I can visualize a group of 40 to 50 boys with different levels within the choir — one for beginners and one for more advanced singers,” said Cannon, noting that such a structure would allow advanced boys to mature as musicians while allowing new choristers the time to learn basic skills.

But that goal comes with some resistance.

“In our society, we don't see singing as an exciting opportunity for males. Boys need to be convinced,” he said.

Cannon said he plans to do that through more musical performances and activities.

A “Singing Saturday and Fun Day” in October and March will be a mini retreat filled with singing, skill building and fun.

A field trip to the Carnegie Science Center is planned for January.

And a concert appearance at the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival in May will allow the boys to perform for a larger audience.

“I began singing when I was 5. I don't find any experience more satisfying than singing,” Cannon said. “I hope the boys (in PBC) will get that same sense of excitement and satisfaction.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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