St. Michaels Choir School students sing in Germanys grand cathedrals

MUNICH—On the door of the manager’s office of the world-famous Regensburg Domspatzen a visitor can read a list of quotations, one of them from Stephen Handrigan of Toronto.“Change nothing. Improve everything,” it reads. The director of the St. Michael’s Choir School borrowed it from the campaign to refurbish Massey Hall.It was advice from the director of an 80-year-old institution to a 1,000-year-old counterpart looking toward its future. To Handrigan, the Regenburg Domspatzen already sets the standard for cathedral choirs in the Catholic tradition and, not surprisingly, the opportunity to share a concert with these Cathedral Sparrows, as they would be called in English, represented the high point of his own 160-voice choir’s recently concluded 12-day German tour.Although the St. Michael’s Choir School tours regularly, major expeditions such as this one occur only once every few years, the last to Italy four years ago when they sang for Pope Francis.At home they are regular schoolboys (Grades 3 to 12) with an enriched curriculum that routinely ranks theirs among the top schools in the province. How enriched? At breakfast in Cologne one morning a Grade 12 student asked if I recognized a reproduced painting on the wall. He did. It was Raphael’s School of Athens and he proceeded to identify the various ancient philosophers portrayed in it. Article Continued BelowWhat further distinguishes these youthful choristers is their regular participation in cathedral services, an all-male choral prerogative in the Catholic tradition. On the German tour they both sang masses and gave concerts, always in a cathedral or church setting, beginning in one of the great medieval ecclesiastical buildings of Europe, Cologne Cathedral.Even with 160 voices (divisible into four separate groups according to grade, under the direction of Maria Conkey, Terri Dunn and Peter Mahon), this grandiose pile of stone represented an enormous space to fill with sound, but high-pitched voices tend to travel well and part of their program was shared with the cathedral’s own choir.With the Torontonians in front of the chancel and their Cologne colleagues occupying bleachers well off to one side, three conductors were required, one each for the two choirs and a third “shadow” conductor between them to facilitate co-ordination and compensate for the fact that neither conductor could see the other through the massive stone support column separating them.