Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Angelic voices, heavenly music

The Twin Cities-based Minnesota Boychoir has been shaping the musical landscape since 1962

They were organized in 1962, to provide music for services at Morris Nilsen Funeral Chapel in Richfield, Minnesota. From that improbable genesis, the Minnesota Boychoir has grown to become a cherished musical institution in the Twin Cities.
Actually one of four such musical ensembles in the area, the Boychoir is the oldest continuously operating such group in Minnesota. (The others are Metropolitan Boys Choir, a spinoff from Minnesota Boychoir, Land O’ Lakes Boys Choir and St. Croix Valley Boys Choir.)
Mark Johnson, director since 1993, said the choir almost dissolved when its former directors stepped down. “I took over with 16 young singers.” Today there are actually four choirs — a junior chorus, ages 7-10; the concert choir, ages 9-12; “Cantabile” (the word means “beautiful smooth music”), ages 9-14; and the high school group, “Allegro,” grades 9-12.
Cantabile, the select singing group, is the most visible in public — and the most familiar ensemble to concertgoers.
Why a boys’ choir at all? Isn’t it a throwback to medieval Europe? And, what’s wrong with including girls?
Johnson says, “We’re not sexist. Girls’ voices are perfectly wonderful. But the idea of an all-boy choir has a long and honorable history. There’s a lot of tradition there.” He says the boy’s voices create “a different instrument than what you get in a mixed-voice children’s choir. With boys, it’s weird and magical when they sing together. It’s a unique sound.”
That sound doesn’t last forever. Sooner or later, the pure, angelic sound of a boy’s singing voice will change (Johnson says, “crack”). He told Metro Lutheran, “It can happen in grades 4-5, but more typically during junior high. For us, when the voice changes, the singer stays in the choir, but he gets a different part.”
At a recent evening rehearsal, the Cantabile boys spent more than a quarter hour singing scales and other exercises (see photo). There was evidence of a highly-disciplined, sonor-ous, well-tuned musical ensemble. That same heavenly sound has become this group’s trademark when singing in public.
“We do four public concerts in the winter and three in spring [see box],” says Johnson, along with many other more specialized as-signments, including singing in churches.” The group now also sings occasionally with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
“We accept invitations to lots of venues,” Johnson explains. The St. Olaf College music major is at least the fourth director of the Boychoir. From a handful of singers who once provided music for funerals, the Boychoir has become a $250,000 annual operation.
“Every boy pays tuition,” Johnson explains. “We audition to fill the spaces. Nobody who’s qualified gets turned away.”
The choir depends in part on contributions to meet its annual budget.
For more about the choir, visit
* * *
Where to hear the choir
Winter Holiday Concerts
Sunday, December 11
7:00 p.m., Church of St. Michael, 16311 Duluth Ave. SE, Prior Lake, Minnesota
Saturday, December 17
7:00 p.m., Church of St. Michael, 16311 Duluth Ave. SE, Prior Lake, Minnesota
Sunday, December 18
4:00 p.m., location to be determined
Sunday, January 8
1:00 p.m., Landmark Center, 75 W. Fifth Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Spring Concerts
Saturday, May 20
7:30 p.m., Ted Mann Concert Hall, U. of M., 2128 Fourth St. South, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sunday, May 21
4 p.m., Sundin Hall, Hamline University, 1531 Hewitt Ave., Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saturday, June 3
7:30 p.m., Basilica of St. Mary, Hennepin Ave. at 17th St., Minneapolis, Minnesota