Choirboys split spawns new group

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

A split in the Land of Lakes Choirboys will give music lovers a double dose of Christmas spirit this coming weekend.

Elk River’s own Land of Lakes Choirboys are preparing for their annual Christmas concert at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9 at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, 566 Fourth St. N.W. in Elk River.

Members of the Choirboys while at an engagement.

The group, including boys ages 5-14, will be sharing its music at other times before Christmas Day including during a worship service at 11 a.m. Dec. 18 at the Fort Snelling Memorial Chapel.

But the Land of Lakes Choirboys will be welcoming their guests Dec. 9 without their original founder, Craig “Andy” Anderson, and a former long-time artistic director, Francis Stockwell.

Anderson and Stockwell have joined with some families who were also involved recently with the Land of Lakes group to form a new choir, the North Star Boys’ Choir. The North Star group celebrated its first rehearsal Nov. 1 at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9141 County Road 101 in Corcoran, and will present “A Choirboy’s Christmas” there at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11.

Admission is free to each group’s concert next weekend, though both will be accepting a freewill offering to cover their expenses.

Anderson and Stockwell promise that the singing of the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” will be part of the North Star presentation, and guests who might want to hear that sung live as often as possible could also hear it as part of the Choirboys’ concert, said Choirboys executive director Paul “P.J.” Fanberg and artistic director Aaron Carpenter.

But with as much enjoyment as guests are sure to receive from either or both concerts, there are definite reasons why Anderson, Stockwell and some of the new North Star group’s families felt it was time to separate from the Land of Lakes tradition.

In speaking with the Star News, Stockwell suggested it was a matter that some adults still supporting the Land of Lakes Choirboys program were choosing to stray from traditions that had been built over more than 30 years. Stockwell said that he and Anderson are continuing a European-based study of music, while the Choirboys in recent years have leaned more toward contemporary work.

“We have a good mix of music,” Stockwell said of the North Star choir’s planned program for Dec. 11, “but we have a great part of it featuring the great classic composers.”

He mentioned Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart among legends whose work that he and Anderson want to teach the boys, now numbering 36 youth in the North Star Boys’ Choir.

Said Anderson: “We both believe boys should come to know these important geniuses and their music, specifically for boys’ voices.”

Adults supporting the North Star group’s mission also believe in choir competition, and that it will help the boys grow in their music and as young men.

For three weeks from June 28 through July 18 next year, they are planning an East Coast tour including stops in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The tour will feature stops closer to home such as in Iowa and Wisconsin, and in Cincinnati, Ohio from July 11–14 when the choir will compete in Children’s and Barbershop divisions at the World Choir Games.

Cincinnati is the first U.S. city to host that event; thus, Stockwell and others who supported leaving the Choirboys organization felt the time was especially ripe. “We don’t have to fly overseas (for this). We’ll be in our own back yard, so to speak,” he said.

The Choirboys have a three-week tour of their own planned for next summer, with several stops in the state of New York including Syracuse, Niagara Falls and Manhattan, “and making our way through Cooperstown, I hope,” Fanberg told the Star News. They will sing in Chicago July 4.

Fanberg says there were about 100 boys active in the Choirboys before Anderson and Stockwell left, and now there are 82 boys in the original group, but Fanberg says the future is looking bright with 14 new boys having auditioned this fall — more than in any other season he can recall. He sang with the Choirboys through four years in the mid-1990s and joined the staff in 2000. He holds a business degree from St. Cloud State University and also serves as a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard.

Fanberg grew up close to where the Choirboys once practiced, in a building near Highway 10 and County Road 15. “I walked there one day to audition, without my dad even knowing it,” said Fanberg, adding that singing in a choir offers a rich experience regardless of which group a boy might join.

“It’s provided me an incredible experience in my life,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of direction. It provided me a good place to be. It gave me opportunities that normal 13- and 14-year-olds didn’t get.”

The Choirboys this fall have learned 28 different pieces of music for their Dec. 9 concert and other seasonal performances. “It is a full concert. We do a little bit of everything,” Fanberg said.

A mix of sacred and secular music for the group includes “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night,” “The First Noel” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Let It Snow” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The Choirboys are preparing a slate of popular tunes, said Fanberg, “but maybe with some different arrangements than they (our audiences) are familiar with.”

“We haven’t missed a step,” he added, in regard to the Choirboys’ ability to keep tune with their mission despite the turbulence this fall. “We’re thriving, alive and kicking. We’ve used this opportunity to reorganize. It’s been the best thing for us.”

Said Carpenter: “As an organization, we’re doing very well. We’re in a very exciting position to reshape and refocus our music for the education of the boys in our program. I think we have an exceptional program that allows boys to be boys but also allows them to go beyond what societal expectations are.”

The leaders of the Land of Lakes Choirboys and the North Star Boys’ Choir are all very optimistic about the future for their groups.

“We don’t know what’s waiting for us (the North Star Boys’ Choir) around the corner,” said Stockwell. “That makes it exciting.”

Fanberg welcomes the expansion of such programs in the northwest metro to give more boys a chance to enjoy the many benefits. “We really do wish them the best,” he said of Anderson and Stockwell’s group. “We’re hoping they can pull it off (their new venture).”

The Land of Lakes Choirboys welcome questions on their auditions or other information at 763-213-8105 or [email protected] The North Star Boys’ Choir welcomes questions at 763-441-7206 (Francis Stockwell) or 763-221-8325 (Craig Anderson).