Philadelphia Boys Choir celebrates 50th year

Members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir sing at the opening of the Dilworth Park ice skating rink in 2014.

Members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir sing at the opening of the Dilworth Park ice skating rink in 2014. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Boys Choir is embarking on its 50th season with a whirlwind of performances — and preparations for a trip to Asia.

The choral group boys, from ages 8 to 15 and recognized as one of the finest boy choirs in the world, is in the midst of its busiest time of year. The 90-voice ensemble is preparing, simultaneously, for performances with the Pennsylvania Ballet as it presents “The Nutcracker,” the Philly Pops, and its own series of holiday concerts.

To accommodate all the gigs, director Jeffrey Smith said he has to split the choir up.

“In the performing choir, the youngest is probably 9 or 10, and they go until their voice changes, which is about 14 or 15,” said Smith, a former choir member under founding director Robert Hamilton. “The boys can sing tenor and bass once their voice is ready, but the Pops concerts and the Ballet, there are no tenors and basses, just the sopranos and altos.”

After the holidays, the choir will make its annual two-week trip abroad; this year, the singers will be touring Vietnam.

Being part of the choir is much more than singing, said Smith, who has been director for 13 seasons.

“When we do our tours each year, we often go to countries where the people have never met an American,” he said. “So I tell them, you may be the only American they meet, so it’s important that you represent the country well. I really think they take that seriously.”

In its half-century, the Philadelphia Boys Choir has shaped many notable young men — including Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, news anchor Ukee Washington, and Benj Pasek, a songwriter who has won an Oscar, a Tony, and is now nominated for a Grammy award.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.