And Then, They Go to College!

We have been reviewing the comments from our alumni, and I want to share something one of Ragazzi’s current high-school seniors wrote. Sometimes I am surprised by the wonderful insights these boys have. They are not always obvious, the deep thinking and feeling hidden by their normal boy-ness, the energy, the rowdiness, the playfulness. Here is current senior YME Karl Clayter’s college essay about the South Africa tour last summer (June 2015). He begins with the experience we had at a local township, Duduza, where the facilities were make-shift, but the energy and joy of the African singers and choir was infectious.
—Joyce Keil
Artistic Director

“Welcome to Africa!” chuckled the guest conductor as the roof toppled off the side of the cement warehouse-like structure to be used for our performance. Yet, the show went on and as I was listening to a stunning tenor sing an “Oh Happy Day” solo, I could feel my own body beginning to sway and dance with the other boys in the Duduza chorus.

In 2nd grade my mom took me to an audition for a “boys’ chorus.” At the time I thought, “Why would a sports-loving, outdoorsy boy want to join a boys’ chorus?” On the first day I remember seeing other boys dancing and singing a sea shanty and then enthusiastically singing the director’s name to greet her. I had never seen boys behave like this before – nor did I ever see myself acting like them in the future.  “Thank God!” I thought later on during rehearsal when someone introduced me to “theory store,” a corner where a boy could showcase his music theory knowledge in return for “theory dollars” which could be used to buy candy. Finally, they were speaking my language! A few days after surviving the surprisingly tolerable rehearsal, I reluctantly told some kids at school about Ragazzi, only to find myself talking it down as, “…Something my mom forced me to do.”

Of the 60 boys who were my age when I joined Ragazzi, only eight remain.  I understand why almost everybody dropped out. We get limited time to play sports, occasionally get made fun of, endure long commutes to long rehearsals, and even give up things like [arriving on time to] prom because we have a concert scheduled on the same day. But the truth is, I’ve never seriously considered quitting Ragazzi. Something always drew me back. Whether it was the prestige and respect of being in Concert Group (the highest level group), getting selected to make a frightening bird screech sound from the back of a concert hall, or impromptu singing on a street corner during our South Africa tour, I’ve always looked forward to returning for my next season. Last Christmas we sang [the Renaissance piece] “Miserere” by [Allegri] and although we had to fine tune nine parts, with 150 boys, ages 8-18, the final result was almost haunting. It was as if the finished piece opened a curtain and allowed us all to sing and feel together.  It was through experiences like these where I realized that I didn’t want to hide my chorister identity.

The shared goal of achieving musical excellence has opened my eyes to the similarities I’ve shared with my fellow choristers and helped me find common ground with people I initially thought I’d never identify with. Through experiences like rehearsing complex musical parts with other choristers, I gained respect for what can be achieved through hard work. It meant a lot to me to see younger choristers mimic my musical and personal conduct. I’ve matured, adopted leadership presence in the group, and become in touch with my emotions, conclusively redefining the way I see myself as a young man. Having learned from numerous experiences of bias and stereotyping as a young boy at Ragazzi, I am able to accept people for their differences and embrace new and offbeat endeavors. I gained confidence in singing by bonding over it with life-long friends who enjoyed it as much as I did.

Ten years later (despite everyone’s expectation that I would quit after one season), I still drive, take the train, walk, or even limp to Ragazzi. I’ve been the star of the football and track team [at my school], but to me, even a five seconds of singing “Bawo Thixo Somandla” with the [South African] Duduza chorus is equal to, or better than, scoring a touchdown or winning a race. I haven’t been to the theory store in about six years. All the sweetness I want comes at rehearsal and when we produce beautiful music.