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MID-WILSHIRE : Boys Voice Approval on Power of Song

April 25, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

The first time Juan Escalante, 11, saw music printed on a page, his reaction was typical of many boys his age: "It looked weird."

But since becoming a member of the Hollywood Boys Chorus, Juan has learned to read music, a skill he believes might make adults pay more attention to kids his age.

"They don't hear you when you're talking, but maybe they'll listen if we sing," Juan said, referring to the chorus's recent performance of a musical plea to rebuild Los Angeles.

Since its debut last fall, the chorus has won over audiences throughout the city, drawing letters of praise from school principals, city officials and community leaders.

The chorus, based at Immanuel Presbyterian Church at 3300 Wilshire Blvd., brings together boys 8 to 12 from a mix of ethnic backgrounds for the purpose of making beautiful music, said James R. McCarthy, founder and director of the chorus.

"This is a great opportunity for a young guy," McCarthy said. "Children by their very nature sing, but our culture doesn't promote music as a medium to grow and develop talent. We can help them become disciplined singers who can be seen as examples of what can be done if you put your talent to work at an early age."

The boys are selected through auditions and practice 14 hours a week after school and on Saturdays. The size of the choir has ranged from 12 to 26, because the rigorous rehearsal schedule and high standards for good behavior have caused some members to drop out. McCarthy, who also founded the Brooklyn Boys Chorus, is planning an open audition in the Mid-Wilshire area for later this spring or summer.

"If you want to join, you have to have a good voice," said Dennis Marin, 10.

Adrian Requena, who proudly claims to have the best voice in the chorus, said: "You have to be good. You can't be fooling around."

Juan said it does not bother him that some of his friends don't care much for the classical music he sings. "Rap is always noisy," he said. "The music we sing has a peaceful sound. It's nice. It takes our minds off bad things."

The singers' parents are expected to support the chorus by participating in monthly meetings of the Parents Council, which with the board of directors oversees the chorus.

Each singer's family is also expected to pay $250 toward operating costs for the program, but special arrangements are made for families unable to afford the fee, McCarthy said.

The boys learn music theory, sight reading and stage presence. "I was real nervous the first time we performed, but I felt good after (the audience) clapped," Juan said.

At a recent rehearsal, the boys eagerly raised their hands to answer McCarthy's questions about notes and giggled when he played the theme from "The Addams Family" TV show on the piano to demonstrate a tetrachord.

McCarthy hopes to open a conservatory at the church and have more than 40 boys in the chorus. He's also looking for ways to encourage more Korean-American boys to audition.

Nine-year-old Adrian is looking ahead to other benefits of his musical training. "When we have dates, we can sing to them," he said.

Information: (213) 871-1670.

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