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Pittsburgh Boy Choir hopes to add members for next season

| Sunday, July 17, 2016, 9:33 p.m.
Members of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, shown during the 2015-16 season.
Members of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, shown during the 2015-16 season.
Members of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, shown during the 2015-16 season.
Members of the Pittsburgh Boy Choir, shown during the 2015-16 season.

When Craig Cannon, 62, agreed to lead the Pittsburgh Boy Choir as its artistic director last year, he felt he was beginning a new challenge and embarking on a final frontier.

He had spent the previous four decades directing choirs at Fox Chapel Area High School, the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University and two churches. He also founded and currently directs the intergenerational all-women's community choir, Belle Voci, in Fox Chapel.

But he had never worked with a boys' ensemble.

His two adult daughters — both elementary school teachers — gave him a few tips.

“They told me my sarcasm wouldn't work with young kids. They were right,” said Cannon, of O'Hara. “They told me I have to be really expressive when I talk about things, and that repetition is very important. I caught on pretty quickly.”

Cannon's leadership helped the Pittsburgh Boy Choir increase its membership to 17 boys, nearly doubling in size from its preparatory season in 2014-15.

Today, the boys come from as far away as Zelienople, Mars, Oakmont, Sewickley, Mt. Lebanon and Blackridge in the east suburbs.

Cannon aims to increase membership even more this upcoming season.

“If we get another 10 boys, we can offer two tiers — an advanced group and a developmental group,” he explained.

The Pittsburgh Boy Choir is the tri-state area's only exclusively boy vocal ensemble, according to Cannon. It is open, by audition, to boys throughout the Pittsburgh area who are between ages 6 and 13 with unchanged voices.

The group meets weekly at Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless for rehearsals, but is not affiliated with the church.

Jennifer Flanagan, 45, of Emsworth, enrolled her son Charlie, 6, whom she described as very active and sports-minded.

“Charlie sang all the time — when he woke up, while playing with Legos. Whatever he was doing, he'd create a song about it. I thought it would be great for him to have more of an outlet for that,” she said.

Within a few months, Flanagan could see the benefits.

“He displays a confidence in the group that is nice to see. He has to memorize his songs and perform on stage — skills and experiences that will serve him well. He learns complex structures and language,” she said.

Among the group's highlights from last year were performing in the botanical gardens at Phipps Conservatory, teaming with Belle Voci for a Christmas concert in front of 200 people and singing at the International Children's Festival on May 15 in Downtown.

The next day, they partnered with Pittsburgh Musical Theater students and the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School orchestra to present music from the 1962 Broadway hit “Oliver” at the Kiski School in Saltsburg.

“It wasn't a full-stage production, but rather a concert. The boys dressed in shabby shirts, cut-off pants, caps and vests to resemble vagrants and performed some simple sketches while singing five major choruses from the musical,” Cannon explained.

“It was a big audience, a full orchestra, and to these kids, the high school singers were like rock stars.”

Trey Moses, 7, of Hopewell, began singing in the Pittsburgh Boy Choir last October.

“I want a career in singing, so I think it's great to learn songs and sing with a bunch of other boys,” he said. “I just love all the singing.”

His mother, Tracey, said she is amazed to watch her son.

“(They) sing very difficult songs. One was in German, I believe. The memorization was no small feat, and those boys did it effortlessly,” she said.

For the coming concert season, Cannon has planned a concert at Sherwood Oaks retirement community in Cranberry and a “Singing Saturday” with the University of Pittsburgh Men's Glee Club in February.

“It will be inspirational for our boys to see older boys singing,” Cannon said. “They'll play some games together, rehearse together and give a mini performance at the end.”

On Valentine's Day, the Pittsburgh Boy Choir will hold its first fundraiser — a catered buffet dinner with dessert served by the boys. They'll also sing a repertoire of love songs.

Rachel Eaton, 36, of Murrysville, enrolled her son Noah, 7, last fall. Both appreciate the performance opportunities.

“I joined the choir because I love to sing, and I was excited to meet other kids who love to sing, too,” Noah said.

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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