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Wow, with the American Boychoir School having a total enrollment of 80 students at a time, who would have guessed that I'd find a fellow alumnus here?

For anyone who's ever read A Separate Peace, that's what the American Boychoir School, located in Princeton, New Jersey, is like. Everyone is required to wear uniforms at all times, though the clothes that make up the uniform have been amended in recent years to include jeans and sweatshirts in addition to polos and chinos that ABS students have worn for decades. The main building, where all the classes and choir rehearsals take place, is a mansion that was owned by Dr. Lambert, the inventor of Listerine, as the story goes. It has all the necessary elements of a New England Boarding School: A foreboding basement (every year on Halloween the 8th graders put on a haunted house in the basement they call the Gore Walk), a formal staircase, hardwood floors, and nooks and crannies abound.

Discipline is rather old-fashioned. Penalties for misconduct include work detail, disappoints, demerits, and suspensions. More minor infractions could warrant a punishment of "standing on the wall," a procedure where you stand in front of the wall and look at it until you're told otherwise. Every rehearsal begins with a double line, a formation where everyone stands, silently, eyes forward for half a minute or so--this is designed to make everyone calm and focused.

There are so many more things I could describe about the school and the adventure of living with 79 other boys, but I'll spare you all.

The performing opportunities the American Boychoir affords a middle-school aged boy are mind-boggling. No matter how much you try to realize this at the time, one can't possibly grasp it. Here's a rundown of some of the things I did while part of the American Boychoir:

It's likely that you've heard the American Boychoir before. They sang the True Colors commercial for Kodak in the 1988 Olympics, the very beginning of the soundtrack Interview with a Vampire, and the "Easy for You" Stetson commercial. They also sang the majority of the soundtrack for Wide Awake, a Rosie O'Donnell movie that flopped. They've appeared on Good Morning, America several times, and once in a church service at the Crystal Cathedral, which is broadcast nationally every Sunday morning.

The American Boychoir sports a very wide range of literature. The first part of the program generally consists of what conductor James Litton refers to as "Masterworks for Boys' Voices." Since women didn't sing in church until relatively recently, the vast majority of European sacred music is written for men and boys, and the choir manages to supply budding tenors and basses from those whose voices have begun to change before they graduate. For this part of the program, the choir dresses in vestments, which look something like big red dresses with white surplices draped over them. On the other end of the spectrum, the group performs African, Asian, and American folk songs, including a choreographed medley which is, at this time, a medley of Gershwin songs.

The choir is really very good. We always liked to think we were better than Vienna, but of course having no where near the name recognition, we're not as highly regarded. But if they ever tour to where you live, you ought to see them. They put on a good show.

1 I was never very photogenic, but one photo of me that seems to have lived on in the choir's literature is one of me in a recording session. You can see it at the top of the page at http://www.americanboychoir.org/recordingspage.htm -- I'm the one in the middle, with the red sweater on. That would have been in 1995 or 96, so about 4 years ago...