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Pasadena Boys Choir Won't Be Home for Christmas Show

December 18, 1986|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

For the first time in its 41-year performing history, the Pasadena Boys Choir has been forced to leave its birthplace to give its annual Christmas program.

The scheduling of two concerts in Glendale this year is the result of the choir's growth and success, according to John R. Barron, the director who revived the defunct group in 1971 and has led its Christmas concerts in Pasadena for 15 years.

Having outgrown the places where 200 used to gather every Christmas, the choir was unable to find a location in Pasadena that was large enough, cheap enough or had an open date.

Performances will be given at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday20 at the United Methodist Church, 134 N. Kenwood St., Glendale, where 1,000 can be seated. Tickets will sell for $5 at the door.

"I don't think we'll know if we still have our following until Friday night," Barron said. "We've had to do quite a bit of explaining. Pasadena is the only place we've ever performed at holiday time."

Under his direction, the choir has grown from a handful of children in 1971 to a membership of more than 120 boys between the ages of 8 and 14. Audiences have grown from a few parents to about 500 ticket buyers for each concert, Barron said.

Fewer Sites in Pasadena

From small churches and school auditoriums, the choir moved to larger halls that had the requisite piano or organ. The growing audiences of recent years have meant fewer Pasadena sites to choose from, Barron said. The few large Pasadena churches where concerts have been held in recent years are booked through the holiday season.

The choir no longer can afford the cost of giving concerts in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, he said.

The choir often filled the Civic Auditorium and became well known during what Barron called "Pasadena's golden era."

Founded in 1925 by John Henry Lyons, who was then music coordinator for Pasadena schools, the choir in its heyday went on tours, sang on radio programs and made records. It flourished until it was disbanded 1951, when Lyons retired.

Barron said some Pasadena residents asked him to re-create the choir when he moved to the city in 1971.

A music major at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., Barron spent several years as a child welfare worker for local agencies and directed the choir part-time. Now it is his full-time occupation and he has three part-time assistants, all of whom have experience as music teachers.

Barron said the choir is a private, nonprofit educational institution with an annual budget of about $250,000. It has an office at 232 N. Lake Ave. and practices in choral rooms at Pasadena City College.

"We live a quiet existence," he said. "We are really better known outside our community. We've done performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and several other fine groups."

Barron said the choir takes a major tour every three years and most recently sang in several concerts in France and Germany in 1985.

Sang in Notre Dame Cathedral

"We sang for 4,000 in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and got a standing ovation," Barron said. Pasadena residents heard the choir in a hastily arranged free program in October, 1985, when the boys sang at the emotional closing of the Huntington Sheraton hotel's landmark main building.

"Each year the demands have been greater," Barron said.

Auditions for choir membership are held twice a year. Barron said applicants are usually referred by music teachers or brought by their families and come from throughout the western San Gabriel Valley.

"We have a whole cross-section represented," Barron said. "Our kids come from public and private schools and several different races."

The 120 members are divided into five groups that rehearse regularly. Barron said it takes about two years to train a boy for one of the two top groups, numbering about 60, who sing for the two major concerts, at Christmas and in the spring.

Tuition is between $90 and $300 for a five-month semester, depending on the level of each boy's participation.

Barron, who himself once sang in a boys choir, said, "Boy voices have always been unique, producing a tone quality that can't be produced any other way. The music goes back to the 3rd Century."

He said that about 90% of all boys between the ages of 8 and 14 have voices suitable for a choir, but what is needed most is dedication and commitment.

"We get calls to produce a high-quality result, as with the Philharmonic," Barron said. "They want a group that is consistent with what they're producing, which of course is the very best."

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