As a man who can keenly remember waiting until age 15 for my voice to break - yeah, that was a loooong sophomore year - this report about the dwindling numbers of boy sopranos in Europe was interesting.
But maintaining Bach’s legacy has become more difficult. The problem is with the sopranos. At St. Thomas, as in all boys choirs, the oldest of those singers with unbroken voices are the most prized. Like flowers that are most beautiful just before they die, these boys have the most power, stamina and technique. There are scholars who say that in Bach’s day, some boys’ voices didn’t change until as late as 17. Now boys’ voices are changing earlier, a lot earlier. Medical records tracking puberty through history do not exist, but Joshua Goldstein, chairman of the demography department at the University of California, Berkeley, has analyzed mortality patterns among boys, which can show increased risk-taking and, by extension, the onset of puberty. His research suggests that the age of puberty for boys has dropped, on average, 2.5 months a decade since the mid-1700s. That would mean that boys are sopranos for a shorter time. To maintain a well-stocked soprano section, St. Thomas needs to start with and train more boys. To house growing numbers of recruits, the choir has built a new, larger glass-and-steel-frame alumnat. [More for choral music fans]
I was fortunate to have been in school when chorus was attractive as a way to get out of study hall, and I subsequently learned to love singing. Like golf, it's something you can do for almost all of your life.
Laugh if you want, but The Stone's Keith Richards was a boy soprano who sang for the Queen.