Richard Ervais donned a checkered collared shirt and navy blue V-Neck sweater, with short cropped hair, as he stood in the doorway of the Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley’s activity room in Germantown.
Clutching a bright tote bag, Ervais looked much like the former choir boy who sang while Violet Addison played piano accompaniment during the 1970s in the Philadelphia Boys Choir.
Now in his 50s, Ervais traveled from California for a Saturday party which served two functions: A reunion that also celebrated Addison’s 104th birthday.
Slowly, he pulled a 33-inch record from the bag.
“It’s from 1972,” he said beaming, showing off one of his two copies of a recording of some Philadelphia Boys Choir studio tracks.
An indelible mark
Noting that a special bond with Mrs. Addison and the choir itself grew over time, Ervais described a photo of the two together. It was from a time when, too old to sing with the choir, he served as the pianist’s “page turner.”
“It was one of the high points of my life just being with these people,” he said. “The creativity and going to Europe, and doing TV shows and learning some amazingly hard music so easily and it was Mrs. Addison and [former conductor and founder] Dr. [Carlton] Lake.”
Ervais and former choir boy Douglas Murray reunited with Addison at her birthday celebration. Both described her as “elegant, but also like a den mother.” She was always warm, they noted.
“I think that’s why she’s 104,” Ervais said. “She was always happy, always laughing, and the boys just loved her.”
Now an aerospace engineer, Murray said the flights involved in the choir’s international travel inspired his future career path. The best part of being in the choir, he said, was acting as an ambassador of sorts.
Murray described a scene at an airport in Amsterdam, in July of 1969, just hours after the U.S. landed a spacecraft on the moon.
“We’re walking through the airport and we have our jackets on, and everybody in the airport came up and was congratulating us because we had just landed on the moon,” he said. “We were the first Americans that they saw. The boys choir represented America right off the bat.”
A bittersweet day
Addison could only watch the instrument that fueled much of her life during festivities which included a “Happy Birthday” serenade from the current Philadelphia Boys Choir.
Murray’s eyes glistened often during the party. A choirboy from the 1960s, he remembered many international adventures with Addison closeby. The choir – through tuition and donations – funded many festivals and concert performances throughout the world.
“She is a great person and really influenced my life, almost like another parent,” he said. “She was like the mother of the choir.”
Despite decades of practice, Addison couldn’t perform that day and barely was able to hear the singers as her hearing had declined. But, the festivities sparked something in Addison, too.
“I loved those boys,” she said, who often smiled and laughed at the memories at Saturday’s party. “I always preferred boys choir to girls.”