They all agree on one thing: the pandemic was a painful turning point for the big boys’ choirs. Anyone who, like her, is dependent on getting younger every year because the experienced older singers are leaving, must constantly ensure that there are new blood. If you can’t “go fishing” in the elementary schools because they are closed or work in homeschooling, in the worst case two years will be missing.
In addition, the boys’ choirs, which traditionally maintain a professional artistic standard, are dependent on the old hands working the newcomers into the repertoire, which now has to be completely rebuilt due to a lack of rehearsals.
But now the boarding schools and rehearsal rooms have filled up again, and the boys have returned to their sometimes unfamiliar surroundings. With the large Saxon choirs in Leipzig and Dresden, at least enough singers were recruited via online youth days to fill the classes, although there was no motivation to perform together.
At the Windsbacher Knabenchor, on the other hand, there is still a struggle for a large 5th class in the Central Franconian idyll: “As a rural boarding school, we are dependent on young people from the surrounding area. And it was certainly aggravated that the successor was still unclear for me,” says choir director Martin Lehmann. At the end of the school year, he succeeds the incumbent Kreuzkantor in Dresden, who is retiring.
But that is not the only change at the top of the traditional choirs: Lehmann, who himself began his career in the Dresden Kreuzchor, is followed by the ex-Thomaner Ludwig Böhme. The 43-year-old is hopeful about the situation in Windsbach, which awaits him from the summer: “It was two lost years, yes. But why shouldn’t it be possible to achieve what was possible before the pandemic?”
Böhme sees the biggest asset in the traditional choir community in the all-boys boarding school, which may seem anachronistic to outsiders: “In our fast-moving society, continuity is universally underestimated. It is a quality to go through thick and thin together for a long time.”
Because boys’ choirs may develop their appeal to the audience from their special sound, but they have an effect on the boys themselves primarily because of their inner cohesiveness: the social aspect of being a role model and being familiar is of almost existential importance. Only in the boys’ choir do many boys really dare to sing. If they were no longer able to rehearse or eat together, not only did their musical skills suffer, but rituals and friendships also collapsed.
In Leipzig, the Thomaskantor Andreas Reize, who has already been inaugurated, has long been cruising in calm waters, although there was a violent storm in the teacup about his appointment. The dispute about his suitability, which was started by older Thomaners and was probably more about his Catholic Swiss origins without the Leipzig stable smell, was so bitter in public that one had to worry whether the former Solothurn boys’ choir would even take up his post would. But things seem to have calmed down, Reize exudes friendly calm and feels “totally well received, both by the workforce and by the boys”.
First, the 46-year-old went with his protégés to choir camps, not only maintained diligent conversation with them, but also played football with them and only then started the intensive rehearsals again.
This spirit of optimism apparently inspired the city, which is home to a particularly large number of musicians and other creative people. “At the last youth day in March, our booth was almost run over,” says Reize without any hint of showing off. Apparently curiosity and longing for a new beginning balanced each other out in a happy way.
In Dresden, too, this prospect should have a salutary effect after more than 25 years without a change of cantor: great hopes rest on Martin Lehmann – all of which would be an almost superhuman task to fulfill all at once. Unlike in Leipzig, the cantor of the Dresdner Kreuzchor is traditionally also responsible for the artistic director and thus also for the administration of the 130 singers and 60 employees. There are of course many open construction sites. But Lehmann can fall back on his Windsbach experience as managing director and is therefore “accustomed to very high expectations from all sides”.
It will be interesting to see whether new bosses and the return of hopeful talent will do the trick. Because cultural funding will have to be geared even more closely to the relevance of the respective ensembles these days. In Leipzig, the city’s cultural budget, from which the Thomaner feed themselves, is still stable. The financing works congruently in Dresden, where, when Lehmann took office, the correction of a cut in material resources that threatened his existence was negotiated. As an institution under public law, the Windsbacher Knabenchor is partly financed with public funds, but primarily with state church funds. However, how long all these systems remain socially legitimized ultimately depends on the radiance of the young singers.