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Meet the two Pinoy boys in the Wilten Boys’ Choir

By Zoe Cadena-Pittracher

Photos by: Gerhard Berger and Zoe Pittracher

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A BROTHERHOOD OF SINGERS The Wilten Boys’ Choir

When we hear Austria, the first thing that comes to mind is The Sound of Music. Don´t we Filipinos just love that movie? So much so that we know of schnitzel served with noodles without even knowing what that is. We love the song Do Re Mi, we think Edelweiss is the national anthem of Austria, and we’ve listed a few of our favorite things!

Some think of the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Sigmund Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis. But music-loving Filipinos of course know the world-famous Vienna Boys´ Choir.

Do you know that before the Vienna Boys was established, a medieval choir consisting of six boys sang at Vienna`s Imperial Chapel for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I in 1498? According to contemporary sources, when the Emperor moved his court and his court musicians from Innsbruck to Vienna, he gave specific instructions that there were to be six boys among his musicians. These six boys descending from Wilten`s “Singknaben” are the forerunners of the Vienna Boys` Choir.

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LEADING THE GROUP Professor Mag. Johannes Stecher

Of red jackets, lederhosen, and the voices of angels

The Wiltener Sängerknaben or the Wilten Boys` Choir from Innsbruck, Austria is one of the oldest boys’ choirs in Europe. It is also one of the best and among the most renowned of its kind worldwide. They are known for their trademark garments, which is the red jacket with lederhosen (leather pants) or the tracht, the traditional costume worn in German-speaking countries and regions.

The history of the choir dates to the 13th century. The boys were recruited from a collegiate school in Wilten founded in 1235. The Singing Boys of Wilten Abbey (as they were known back then) musically accompanied the church during daily service. In return, the boys receive free education, food, clothes, and pocket money.

Through the centuries, the history of the choir was repeatedly interrupted by wars. After the Second World War, the choir was re-established. Since 1991, the artistic direction of the Wilten Boys’ Choir has been in the hands of choir-director, Prof. Johannes Stecher. The special technique developed by Stecher is reason behind the bell-like sound, unique intensity, and strength of the boys’ voices.

Johannes Stecher is the artistic director of the Wiltener Sängerknaben. He studied music, instrumental education, and singing pedagogy at the Mozarteum and concert organ at the Tyrolean State Conservatory. He was the director of the Telfs Music School for 18 years. He also attended numerous courses and master classes as a baritone and conductor. He took over the Wilten Boys` Choir 32 years ago, responsible for turning the choir into to what it is today.

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WHERE THEY FIND THEIR VOICE The Wilten Boys’ Choir has members as young as six years old

The choir consists of about 190 boys and young men. Their concert tours take the young singers all over the world.

In addition to numerous concerts in Austria and abroad, the Wilten Boys’ Choir has in the recent years performed at the Salzburg, Bregenz, and Tyrol festivals. Some of their soloists were hired at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and other renowned opera houses. They also regularly tour in Asia. Following the recording of the Christmas Oratorio, the choir’s CD Babel with works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, has been nominated for the German Record Critics` Award Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.

CDs and DVDs with Alpine Folk Music as well as a full recording of Saint Matthew`s Passion (Matthäus-Passion) by Johannes Sebastian Bach for the 75th anniversary of the choir`s re-establishment have also been released.

ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk), Austria’s national public broadcaster accompanied the choir for almost a year following their 70th anniversary since re-establishment after WWII. The documentary is shown nationwide on Austria`s national holiday.

The documentary touches the history of the choir, education, and other activities. They also showed their concerts in Austria, concerts during their tour in China, and snippets of their performances in Mozart`s Magic Flute in La Scala.

Meet the boys

The boys spend the first few years in the junior choirs where voice and pitch are trained as they gradually work their way to the repertoire. They first then perform on smaller settings and slowly become accustomed to the life of a boy chorister. As they gain musical maturity and vocal ability, the boys are then invited to join the concert choir. The choir is a specialist section in the Tyrolean Conservatory of Music. The parents pay a semester fee or a music school fee.

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A HAPPY FAMILY Trajan and Caleb with their sister Antonia before a concert

My two children Trajan and Caleb joined the choir in 2014. Caleb was seven years old then and Trajan was nine. We received an invite via mail asking if Caleb would like to audition. I eventually learned that the choir has representatives that go from school to school to recruit new talents. Since I don’t have anyone to leave my other kids with, I took Caleb’s little sister and Trajan with me. Johannes also asked Trajan if he wanted to try and sing and the rest is history. Next year, the boys will be celebrating their 10th year of being Wilten Boys.

The choir made my sons experience things I never imagined would happen to us. Caleb was soon elevated to Kammerchor (Chamber Choir) and became a soloist. Our life suddenly changed. Almost every weekend, they have concerts here or around Austria, parts of Germany, or Italy. They also sing for royals, dignitaries, or politicians in private or public events. Luxury hotels like Astoria or Sacher ask for them to sing for their guests or do a Christmas Special. I was so proud when Caleb came home once wearing a lanyard with the word “artist” on it.

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TOURING THE WORLD Caleb in China for a concert tour last 2019

They needed it so they could be distinguished in a sea of people that are watching the opening of the World Cup in Seefeld. The 2019 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships was attended by several thousand people from all over the world live and over 60 million viewers worldwide on opening day, and the Wilten Boys sang Austria’s national anthem. It was one of my proudest moments. I had goosebumps. How often can you say you watched your son singing at the World Cup?

I hail from the island of Panay, the town of Barotac Viejo, province of Iloilo. Coming from the Philippines where we are more into Korean pop or American music, I did not know much about the classical world.

When my sons were younger, I would sit in and watch while they practiced and by that, I realized, I was also getting my introduction into that world. I learned to appreciate Bach, Mozart, and Bruckner. Things that I thought were just anime themes my sons would tell me are compositions by Mozart such as Lacrimosa. And just when I thought the boys were just singing, they became part of their first ever opera, Tannhäuser. From then on, there were many other operas until Caleb’s voice broke. This was an unfortunate time as he was supposed to travel to China to join the cast of La Scala for The Magic Flute. But with the Wilten Boys, a voice crack is not a disease.

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A POWERFUL VOICE Trajan singing a solo

A voice break is not a reason for a “Knabe” to leave the choir. As artistic director Johannes Stecher puts it, “We don`t want the boy to stop singing at the age of 13. We want to give joy with music and train his voice for his entire life.” During the voice break, each boy receives an individual vocal care and instructions on how to deal with the voice break. The choir in the moment has around 50 male voices—tenor, bass, and baritone. Trajan and Caleb are both bass singers.

As Caleb hones his voice, his older brother Trajan, now with the Chamber Choir, is a soloist. He sang the part of Judas for two consecutive years now for the choir`s yearly concert of Johannes Sebastian Bach’s Saint Matthew`s Passion. As Trajan also works as a prefect, he has his special duties in the choir and helps by looking after the younger boys. He is also taking a pre-study course in singing at the Tyrolean State Conservatory.

Caleb and Trajan are both very active in the choir and plan to stay so.

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Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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