Boys to Men

Boys to Men

His fingers and feet chasing a maelstrom of keys, levers, switches and pedals, organist Andy Kotylo’s face is a maelstrom itself—tightening up, then releasing, then tightening, his lungs seemingly forgetting to breathe, then expelling and sucking air like it’s their first taste of oxygen. A few yards away, some 25 other faces are inhaling in quiet bursts, then exhaling in controlled burns, wide-open mouths propelling sonic waves into the wide-open room, eyes darting between sheet music in bright red folders and the figure in black who’s standing before them. That figure is Walden Moore, and his arms and words are gesturing and urging with intensity and meaning, demanding more feeling, more dynamic range, more precision, insistent until he gets it, triumphant when he does.

That was the scene Wednesday night as the Trinity Choir of Men and Boys prepared for its big annual Christmas show, happening tonight under the soaring arched ceiling of the historic Trinity Church on the Green. The Episcopal parish traces its origins in New Haven to 1705; its current building, believed to be the oldest Gothic-style church in America, to 1814; its men’s and boys’ choir, which draws members from inside and outside the church, to 1885; its gargantuan pipe organ, made by famed maker Æolian-Skinner, to 1935; and the tenure of its musical director, Mr. Moore, to 1984.

Moore (pictured third) is the kind of person you want at the front of your choir: tough but fair, ambitious but compassionate. He’s humble, too, emphasizing how vital Mr. Kotylo (pictured fourth), Trinity’s associate director, is to the functioning of the parish’s music programs, and trusting Kotylo—who Moore playfully calls “Doc,” in reference to the Ph.D. Kotylo has to Moore’s Master’s degree—to provide critical feedback regarding how the choir sounds from the vantage point of the gallery, where the audience’ll be.

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Moore’s leadership is a huge part of the value for the members of the audition-only Choir of Men and Boys, not least because some of the group’s singers are just getting started honing their musical talent through actual training. (The youngest this year is eight years old, I’m told. The oldest, on the other hand, is in his 60s.) Moore has been honing his own craft for decades, taking up piano at age 7, then organ at 14, going on to major in organ as an undergrad at the University of Kentucky and a grad student at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music before embarking on his decades-long professional career.

But the educational impact for members of the choir goes well beyond music, reverberating into other areas of life. “For the children in particular,” Moore says, working in the choir “gets them organized in a way that they never would be at this age otherwise,” teaching lessons and instilling a sense of discipline that “pays off in so many ways.” One of those is better scholastic performance, he says, mentioning feedback he gets from teachers and parents that the boys tend to show improvement in their schoolwork after joining.

Young members also take on a certain spirit of adulthood, and at least some of the attendant responsibility that goes with it, sooner than their peers. In the choir, being a “man” doesn’t mean turning 18; it means hitting puberty. After a member’s voice changes from lofty, angelic “treble”—high like falsetto, but sounding full and rounded—to bass, baritone or tenor, he’s become a man. And in the context of the choir, being a man, even the young teenaged sort, means there’s a cadre of younger boys who are looking up to you, following your example, meaning you’ve got to set a good one.

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So don’t expect to see much foolery among the choir’s ranks tonight. But do expect to hear some songs you haven’t heard before, alongside a handful of holiday favorites (including a pair of audience sing-alongs). During a tune the program identifies as “‘Gloria’ from Christmas Cantata,” several professional guest musicians—two trumpeters, a tromboner, a horner, a tubist and a timpanist, Pat Smith, with a remarkably good ear for tuning his kettle drums—conspire with the choir to produce something that would feel at home in any number of the classic technicolor film epics that run on TV this time of year, like The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia. One of the more dynamic and difficult songs on the program, “Welcome, All Wonders,” positions big explosive stretches involving full choir and instrumentation next to quiet delicate moments courtesy of young treble soloist Teddy Glover.

After those and many other songs had been rehearsed for hours on Wednesday, many choir members, even having been allowed to sit while they sang, seemed about ready to crack. But Moore wasn’t done yet. “Get up. Work harder!” he urged, and they did. Before long their tune had changed, and so had his. “That’s perfect. That’s perfect! There you go, guys!” he exclaimed, his voice rising over a crest in “Ave Maria.”

The lesson this time? Hard work pays off.

Trinity Choir of Men and Boys
presents its annual Christmas concert
Trinity Church on the Green, at Temple and Chapel Streets (map)
Tonight, December 19, at 7:30pm
$15 suggested donation, or $10 for seniors/students
Website | Facebook Event

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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