On Saturday, I visited Bea Hasselman and the Metropolitan Boys Choir for their weekly rehearsal. The choir is a select group of 30-40 boys aged 5 – 15. Bea, who has taught everywhere from area high schools to the college of St. Olaf, founded the choir in 1971 and has been directing it ever since.
Bea expects a great deal of the boys and they can deliver. The Metropolitan Boys Choir is not an ensemble you join for entertainment, but a professional choir that works hard for a high level of musicianship. A thirteen year-old spoke to me afterwards about wanting to become an opera singer.
Rehearsal was vigorous- in order to keep the choir’s attention, Bea moved at a fast pace and never spent more than 10 minutes on a single piece. Their repertoire was quite complex, at times using four-part harmonies, challenging rhythms, and foreign languages. Bea requires that choir members practice for 15-30 minutes a day (and turn in a practice log to prove it) and gives out CDs with their parts recorded. This groundwork ensured that the boys came to rehearsal ready to go and confident in their music.
Her conducting was clean and crisp, with no extraneous motions. I liked that she was able to move in and out of the beat pattern as needed. Bea made some good points about head voice and took time to work with the older boys who were experiencing changing voices.
Bea had a disciplinary tactic that was interesting. If a boy was fiddling around or not participating, she would excuse him for a two-minute break. It seemed like a good way to remove the troublemakers temporarily and keep them from derailing the whole choir, but it also meant the boys were behind when they rejoined the choir.
At one point, Bea asked me to lead a sectional rehearsal, so I worked with the soprano I and alto sections on a piece in Hebrew. Later, I ended up conducting the whole choir in a piece about rainbows. I would have preferred some notice (I had never heard of the pieces or composers), but went with it. I was lucky to work with such a good choir- they could pretty much go on autopilot without me.