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Singing for harmony

Choral director's Atlantic Boy Choir 100 members strong

Campus and Community

By Marcia Porter

The director of choral studies at Memorial’s School of Music and the founding director of the Atlantic Boy Choir has a strategy for making the world a better place.

“I believe if there were more boys and men singing together, as adults they would learn alternative ways to communicate and manage major issues, and we would live in a more peaceful world,” said Dr. Jakub Martinec, who began singing with choirs at the age of four in his hometown of Prague, Czechoslovakia, during the Communist regime.

“It sounds cliché, but that’s what I believe. Music really connects us.”

Robust choral scene

Dr. Martinec and his wife, Jennifer Beynon-Martinec, say the rich singing culture and abundant choral singing scene in Newfoundland and Labrador helped them to make the decision to move to the province five years ago.

After settling into their new home, Dr. Martinec and Ms. Beynon-Martinec, also a specialist in choral music, decided to fill a gap in what they saw as an otherwise robust choir scene in the province: the Atlantic Boy Choir.

“My wife’s research focuses on the adolescent male voice change and from a vocal perspective there is strong research about how beneficial it is for boys to have experience with singing before their voice changes,” Dr. Martinec said. “It’s really important for their vocal development. That’s why we really wanted to start a boys’ choir for younger boys, so they could sing through the voice change and into maturity.”

In the fall of 2016, Dr. Martinec put out a call for boys 8-21 to sing in a boy choir. Fifty-five signed up.

Boys dressed in black suits standing on rock overlooking St. Johns harbour
Atlantic Boy Choir includes boys age 8-21 from across the province.
Photo: Submitted

“The response was overwhelming, much more than we could have ever expected,” he said. “In the beginning, there was a little rivalry between the east and west coast, so it is really special to see that strong friendships have developed.”

Which is a good thing.

Because who has time for rivalries when you’re singing with boy choirs in Germany and Prague, and performing to sold-out concerts with the world-famous King’s Singers choral group back home?

In his characteristic can-do way, Dr. Martinec made the most of the opportunities.

Like the time last year when a former colleague invited him to Europe to conduct in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, and when he was invited to conduct the renowned Nuremburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christmas 2017 gala concert series.

Boys dressed in choir gowns on a large stage with Christmas trees on either end.
The Atlantic Boy Choir performed in the Christmas 2017 gala concert series with the renowned Nuremburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
Photo: submitted

“I made one condition: that we could bring some boys from Canada,” he said. “So, we started with a joint project to bring a few Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to sing.”

The Atlantic Boy Choir now has a membership of 100 boys, including some from Churchill Falls, Labrador.

The full choir comes together every 4-6 weeks, holding weekly practices in St. John’s and sometimes Corner Brook and Clarenville.

“Philosophically, we want to make singing in the ABC accessible and affordable, regardless of financial situation.” — Dr. Jakub Martinec

Dr. Martinec prepares a master rehearsal schedule and repertoire that he shares with music educators in each location. It’s a model that’s working well, thanks to the commitment of music educators and many volunteers.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without volunteers,” said Dr. Martinec. “The dedication and support we receive from each community is huge. We are also grateful for the financial support we receive.

“Philosophically, we want to make singing in the ABC accessible and affordable, regardless of financial situation,” he continued. “We want to make sure that any boy who wants to sing with us is able to do that, regardless of any perceived barriers. I would like to grow the ABC into a strong, artistically excellent organization, with enough resources to eventually have 300 boys singing. That would be my dream.”


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