The Silicon Valley Boychoir celebrates both the chilly winter weather and the warmth of the season with the holiday concert "Fire & Ice," Dec. 12 at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto.
The concert will be the first in-person performance in nearly two years for the choir, which teaches boys ages 7 to 18 to sing choral music.
The choir has been back together singing in person since August after many months of rehearsing and performing online, said Kaia Richards, artistic director for the group.
The Silicon Valley Boychoir's membership, which totals almost 40 singers at the moment, is made up primarily of boys from the Midpeninsula area, but a few members come from as far north as Belmont and as far south as San Jose.
The group was founded in 2010 by Julia Simon, who serves as the choir's program director.
The Boychoir features four levels for singers of different ages and skills: the beginning-level Overture Choir, for ages 7 and up; the intermediate- and advanced-level Concert Choir for ages 8 to 14; the advanced-level Ovation Choir for ages 9 to 14; and the advanced-level Encore Choir for ages 14 to 18.
Richards, who is in her first year as artistic director, has been with the Boychoir for five years and directs the Ovation and Concert choirs. Composer and arranger Allen Simon, who is also the artistic director of Bay Area choir for adult singers, Soli Deo Gloria, directs the Encore Choir and musician Chloe Billings is the new director of the Overture Choir.
All four choir levels, led by their respective directors, will perform in the Dec. 12 concert, the theme for which was inspired by the nature of winter and the festive season.
"Although we don't live in a place where it snows, it's the concept that winter has the coldness and the darkness, yet also has the warmth and the light that people bring in to combat the darkness of the season. A lot of repertoire — choral music — plays on those themes," Richards said.
The program includes seasonal favorites and other holiday-themed works. Among the highlights: The Encore Choir will perform "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas;" the Overture Choir will sing the classic "Christmas Time is Here," from the 1965 TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas;" and the Ovation Choir will perform "Unending Flame," a song for Hanukkah by composer Paul Carey. The piece, which includes clapping and some tempo shifts, also features accompaniment from Joel Jaffe on clarinet.
"There will be some traditional gems like 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire),' and then some more classically inspired," Richards said.
She also noted that in a first for the Boychoir, the Concert and Ovation choirs will team up to perform "Fire," by composer Mary Goetze, which is inspired by a 13-year-old's poem exploring the nature of fire. The piece uses the poem as its text.
All four choirs will come together at the end of the program to sing "We Need a Little Christmas."
"We always do two pieces at the very end of the concert where everyone is singing. So it's a fun opportunity for the very young boys to have the experience of singing SATB — soprano, alto, tenor, bass — a full group sound as opposed to just the music that they do in their individual groups. So 'We Need a Little Christmas' will be fun," Richards said.
In choosing music for the holiday program, Richards said that she was mindful of finding pieces that are fun and educational for the young choristers.
"I like to choose music that I think is beautiful, things that I think they will enjoy singing and things that also teach them classical repertoire, and expose them to really good composers," she said.
Richards also sought pieces that would work for a smaller sized group of singers than the Silicon Valley Boychoir is accustomed to, as its membership has decreased due to the pandemic, down from 64 singers pre-pandemic to just under 40.
"Our numbers dropped drastically because of it. So we're in a very strong push to build our numbers back," Richards said, noting that the limitations of virtual performance had a major impact on choirs in general.
Before the Boychoir's singers were able to reunite in person a few months ago, rehearsals took place virtually, a method that has brought challenges for anyone trying to make music together, due to inherent delays in videoconferencing, known as latency. During that time, the organization also temporarily adapted its teaching model to what worked best online. Since the choristers couldn't sing together, instruction was more individualized.
"We actually used the year to focus more on the individual singer and we gave each boy a private voice lesson with his director once a week for a shorter amount of time. It was more about personal growth," Richards said.
Now the Silicon Valley Boychoir is back to performing in person, Richards noted, it's all the more special for the members to perform a live concert — and for their families to witness it, but also to keep in mind that personal growth is always a key part of the singers' experience.
"What we do here is teach the boys musicianship, how to become the tenors and basses of the future for high school choirs and beyond, in college. Even if they don't go to college to become a music major, they'll hopefully still retain the love of singing and find a community choir — (and that hopefully they will) be able to read music and find the flexibility and improvisational skills to be fluid with what music has to offer."
"Fire & Ice" takes place Dec. 12, 3:30 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, 3149 Waverley St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $10-$35. For more information, visit svboychoir.org.