Boy Choir Costumes: National Styles


Figure 1.--Polish choirs were noted for the destinctive national costumes they wore at performances. Such costumes are becoming increasingly less common.

The history of boy choirs is rooted in the catholic church. Some of the oldest known European schools since the fall of Rome were schools opened at cathedrals and monestaries to train boys for choirs. The history of the modern European boy choirs centers arond England and Germany/Austria. In Germany, the Ratisbonne choir was established at the end of the 10th Century. In England, Henry VI founded what was, later, to become the celebrated "King's College Choir Cambridge". In Austria during 1498, Emperor Maximilian I wanted to put an end to the rule of the castrati at the Imperial Court. He created the "Hofkapelle" or Royal Chapel, the forerunner of the Wiener Zanger Knaben--the Little Vienna Singers or Vienna Choir Boys. All these choirs, whose comprehensive repertoires covered the entire development of vocal music, boasted some illustrious members over the centuries: Pergolese in Naples, Couperin at the Royal Chapel of Versailles, Bach at the "Thomanerchor" of Leipzig, where he composed his cantata, motets and passions, Schutz at the "Kreuzchor" of Dresden, Purcell at the Chapel Royal, Westminster. The European choir schools became the Mecca of musical and intellectual life. It was there that the greatest part of mediaeval, baroque and renaissance sacred vocal music found its inspiration. The oldest existing choirs appear to be English and German/Austrian choirs and date to the 15-16th century. While France has one of the more active boy choral movements, all of the existing French choirs are of very recent creation. The early choral tradition was broken by the anti-clericism of the French Revolution. The idea of secular boy choirs which are important in America is a relatively new idea, primarily a 20th century development. Interestingly two countries with the strongest catholic traditions (Italy and Spain) do not appear to have strong boy choral traditiions. None of the better known European choirs are Italian or Spanish. Another important catholic country has a few wellknown choirs, but they appear to be of realtively recent origin reflecting Poland's turbulent history.

Choral Costumes

Choir uniforms have varied widely from country to country. Most choirs once had destinctive national costumes. The choirs have both traveling clothes an performance costumes. Some are obvious. Boys in Lederhosen indicate that the choir is German. And we see a Honolylu chour that is unambiouosly Hawaian. Most choirs are in Europe and North America and Europe, but there are choirs in others areas as well. Many choirs are associated with specifc schools and thus wear the uniform at the school. British choirs have thus worn blazers, white shirts, ties, and short pants, although most have now switched to long pants. Choir costumes have in recent years become much less destinctive. Many choirs now perform in blazers and slacks, with the primary difference the color of the blazer. Britain has had a major impact on school unifo\rm trends, This mnakes it difficult to tell the nationality of many choirs wearing school type uniformns. Choirs in some countries have avoided national dress. We do not, for example, see Japanese choirs wearing Japanese traditional outfits.

Country Choirs

We have begun to collect information on choirs in different individual countries. Some had rather generic chor costumes, both secular and religious. Choirs in many countries once had destinctive national styles, lthough these destinctive styles hve begun to disappear in recent years. French choirs have worn blue seaters, short pants, and white knee socks. German choirs often wear sailor suits or folk costumes. Scandivan choirs have often chosen sailor suits. Choirs often perform in these costumes. The choirs associated with cathedrals and churches wear liturgical garments when participating in religious services, but also give secular concerts in their normal uniforms. Other choirs had various specialized costumes, often with a folk flavor, that they put on as part of thei performnces. An American choir from Texas, for example, had cowboy outfits. Information is available on choir costumes in many countries, especially European countries where the boy choir tradition is strongest.







HBC





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Created: June 3, 1998
Last updated: 12:09 AM 6/10/2013