We are pleased to present on this page, in the form of anecdote, vignette or cameo, the life, times and experiences of George Bragg in his own words. George Bragg has long been considered the 'Dean of Boy Choir Directors' in the boychoir world. These entries are not in any chronological order, but are presented as they are received from Maestro Bragg. The latest entries will be at the top of the page.
"These excerpts are from my encounters early in my career, about fifty years ago."
Miriam Alexander enrolled in the Texas University for Women and soon after married a young ministerial student at North Texas University by the name of John Cunningham.
Miriam Cunningham came into the Texas Boys Choir as a mother of a choirboy, Randle Cunningham, then Tom, then Richard. She then had a daughter by the name of Karen. She brought with her a degree in textiles from Texas University of Women in Denton, Texas. Her four years in Denton had been at a time when the Choir was expanding its membership to include not only Denton, but Ft. Worth and Dallas as well.
She had a great deal of time on her hands while waiting for rehearsals to end, so she spent her time doing jobs around the Choir. Then when "Mama" Haughton began to phase out her services, we had to find another person. Miriam Cunningham was the logical replacement.
She was well organized and meticulous in every detail. She packaged all the vestments into parcels small enough to be managed by the choirboys themselves.
When time came to go to California, her first trip with the Choir, they were to make two recordings. The first was "Charles Ives: Music for Chorus"; the second was "Persephone" written and conducted by Igor Stravinsky.
In 1970, she became a paid employee of the Texas Boys Choir as Wardrobe Mistress, Parent Liaison, and Traveling Mother for 5 national and 2 European tours.
She proved to be a loving person, a good disciplinarian, faithful to details, a kind person, an intellectual who read a great deal. She was exemplar, never late, always alert, always prepared for the moment whether it was a conference with the bus driver, a get together with the choirboys, or bringing the director up to date on the progress of various projects.
prayeth best, who loveth best all things both great and small
The Angel That Came To The Texas Boys Choir
There comes a time when a chosen person fits into a niche so comfortably that the mantle is as a chosen vessel. And so it was with Mrs. Otha L. "Mama" Haughton.
She was quiet but firm in her conviction. She was kind but exact in her teachings. She had three boys; the oldest was approximately 10 years; the second child was five and a half, and the third was less than a year. They were good boys. They spent a great deal of time playing as was natural with boys of their age... They protected each other as they vented their talents at play. These qualities became important as time passed by.
Mama Haughton worked at the business of the Choir, morning, noon, and night. She worked to help people solve their problems. She was a natural when the Parents Club began to organize itself into a functioning organization. She had time to get things organized, whether or not it was a meeting or a social occasion. She was ready and capable.
The Haughtons lived outside of town on a farm. They never missed a choir practice. They were always punctual. They dressed always neatly and wore freshly ironed shirts.
She was kind and gracious and always direct in her dealings with individuals.
Mama Haughton got into the boy choir business quite by accident. Later, when the Choir had an out of town concert because the group had to stay together until they returned to the place of departure.
She helped with the vesting of the boys and looked after those who were under the weather. She made herself important to the boys and their needs. She was a good person: a devoted wife, a perfect mother, and as time went by, a mother to many boys who loved her through the years.
She served for thirty years in her volunteer position. A remarkable period of time. Part of the Choir's success can be attributed to her faithfulness. Her length of service was only surpassed by one other person, the director.
From 'The Big Book'.
'Kalman Halasz was a unique gentleman. He was in reality a Renaissance man: a musician, a mathematician, a composer, a teacher, an organist, a concert pianist,and a teacher of the Kodaly Method.
'We had one Hungarian who arrived in 1957 and was the one who introduced us to the Kodaly concepts of ear-training and sight-reading. His name was Istvan Szelenyi.
"Within two years we learned of yet another Hungarian in New York City who had studied with Zoltan Kodaly, and, in fact, had taught in the Royal Conservatory, where he taught teachers how to teach the Kodaly Method. We began negotiations immediately. Within two months he had joined the staff of the Texas Boys Choir.
"Mr. Halasz, who had been an organist at the Cathedral of Pecs, was a contemporary and a friend of Gyorgy Ligeti, another composer of renown. Mr Halasz had an opera of his performed at the State Opera. He spent ten years sharing his wealth of knowledge and the brilliance of his intellect with the members of the boychoir before he died of cancer.
" Mr Halasz, through the Kodaly Method, developed for our choristers an 'inner ear' awareness; an ability to hear a pitch mentally and silently in pre-phonation phase of the vocal process. Eventually, there was added the ability to correctly tune pitch, and to conceive the tone quality to be sung. It is a phase of training that we have come to know, in developing the student's "inner space" as training the "silent voice".
With the establishment of the hand-signs or symbols, we were able to give to our pupils an entrance into a world of abstraction. We were able to teach the students to hear through sight, and to be able to visualize what he heard. This Method then became the path toward perfecting the pupil's total relationship to the world of music which surrounded him: the non-vocal musical disciplines, the theoretical knowledge, and a dynamic creative activity."
"He was Jerry Haughton. He was about two feet six inches tall. He was a charming, petite youngster with a winning, warm smile. With a series of yellow ringlets on his head, he was a demur, portly person of five and a half years of age.
"He had come to the choir rehearsal with his mother and brother. His brother was about 9 years old, good voice, very musical and obviously talented. He had a younger brother who was an infant, later to be a chorister, also.
"Well, rehearsals had begun for about a month. I was interested in knowing who had courage and who was secure in learning his music. I went down the row hearing first one and then the other. I finished my search. Then I said, "Well it looks like that's it." Some choirboy spoke out and said, "Jerry knows his music". I registered surprise. First of all he was not a choirboy - five and a half years old - I had not paid attention to him. He had the attention of the whole group. He stood tall and forthright, opened his mouth and sang beautifully - small, but beautifully. He sang one song, then another, and yet another. He had sat at the rehearsal, heard the music, learned the words and, I learned later, had rehearsed the entire music with his older brother, time after time, each day. I saw no reason why he shouldn't be included. He was rather young, but he could handle the music.
"So he joined the choir. He became a favorite with all the choirboys. He learned "Animal Crackers", sang it as encore material.
"He lasted 10 years as a choirboy. He sang in every section of the choir before he finished his career as a boy singer. After he finished as a chorister, he continued to sing as a tenor in the Scola Cantorum, an extension of the boy choir through one of the Catholic Churches, locally.
"There he sang for another 10 years. He chose to work at art as an occupation. He was employed by Texas Instruments. He retired recently, but he still sings regularly. He has just completed a CD of "Elijah" under Henry Gibbons with the Denton Bach Society, the Denton Bach Orchestra and the Arlington Choral Society.
"I don't think I ever heard of a choirboy who had a longer career as a singer nor one of such superior taste consistently.
"I thank the Good Lord for sending me such a singer, such a talent and such a lasting friend."
Here is a small excerpt written on the 54th anniversary of the Texas Boys Choir.
"It was one of those Texas days when the weather was desirable: fresh, cool, sunshiny, and the temperature in the 40-60 degrees. It was February 7th, 1946. Mr. Coleman Cooper came over from Dallas to lend his support. We named the organization "The Denton Civic Boys Choir". We ran ads for a month before try-outs.
"We met in the parish hall of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. It was a comfortable, well laid out hall with a fireplace at one end. We thought we would have about 50 boys to appear. To everyone's delight we had approximately 200 youngsters. We were auditioning the following day and the next day and the next day and the next day. We ultimately placed the choirboys in their proper sections. When we were through we had about 62 boys. One month later we had reduced the group to 37. From that number we ended up with 26 members.
"We found some very good voices. Some voices were suitable for high tessituras that are part of every boy choir. Some voices had richnesses and resonances that lent them to the mezzo-soprano register. Some voices were in that period just before vocal change. They made excellent altos.
"We began in earnest by choosing the right vocalizations and compositions that reflected those exercises: "Now The Day Is Over", "Golden Slumbers", "The Italian Street Song". We selected one composition after another, simple, straight-forward pieces that gave the group a means of sounding together. Later as we expanded our capabilities we chose more advanced selections.
"We rehearsed twice a week, originally Tuesday and Saturday, then later Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. We sang anywhere people would have us.
"Finally, we tackled a major work by Pergolesi, his "Stabat Mater". After working four months, we were ready for a concert. We chose North Texas State College auditorium.
"About a month before the concert, as the Fates would have it, the Kiwanis Club was having a Talent Show, and the boychoir was included to sing with orchestra, "The Bells of St. Mary's". We had wonderful results from that occasion. It helped us to pull in an audience of 1600 people for our first concert."
The following is from "The Big Book:"
Romano Picutti was invited to come to Morelia, Mexico to conduct the choirs of the Colegio de las Rosas, the oldest conservatory in the western hemisphere. He did so brilliantly, and his fame spread throughout the Americas.
Two years later, my small staff, six choirboys and I attended our first six-week summer session in Morelia. There the boys attended daily three hour sessions with the Ninos Cantores de Morelia and had afternoon classes twice a week with one of the instructors from the boychoir. Each boy had an individual schedule which he kept. He was assigned the first vocal exercise, humming on a single pitch. He was allowed to practice for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening before a mirror. When he had made sufficient progress, his practice time was increased to ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening.
At the end of the third week working on this exercise, the instructor asked to hear the second exercise, "hum-ah." When this took place, the second was so remarkably changed that it was hard for us to imagine what had happened. The sound was centered in the upper area of the mask, the resonance was pronounced, and the body had become involved in the resonance which we had not heard before: the body had become an instrument.
During the remainder of the three weeks, numerous exercises were added, but in a given order, and according to the individual's ability to apply the mental and physical requirements. The singing was vibrant. Each boy sang excitingly, even though he was an individual singer, who still had to gain the nuances and elegance that would make him an outstanding soloist.
"A gentleman from Morelia came to visit some friends of mine. He told me of Morelia, about the city ancient in tradition, the beautiful cathedral in the center of the city, of the people from 3 Indian districts converging at Morelia, Michoacan, land of lakes and of the most unusual School of Music, the oldest school of music in Mexico, and now populated with a boychoir in residence.
"He told me of Romano Picutti, an Italian who came to Vienna to train the Vienna Boys Choir.
"As fate would have it, that summer, a visiting professor at North Texas University told me of a wonderful concert he had heard in Matamoros, Mexico which is just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
"He had heard the Ninos Cantores de Morelia under the direction of Romano Picutti. The concert was beautiful. During the singing of "A Ceremony of Carols" when the music came to 'That Yonge Child', the soloist became frightened and failed to sing. Maestro Picutti played the introduction again, and still the youngster didn't sing. Romano got up from the piano, walked over and very quietly and gently said to the choirboy who was about 9 years of age, 'You and I have rehearsed this piece many times and each time you have sung this solo beautifully. Why don't you sing as you did so many times before?'
"The youngster replied that always the two of them rehearsed the music together. But now there were so many people.
"Mo. Picutti replied, 'These people have come to hear you sing. Now they are waiting to find out whether you can sing or not. Let's show them what we can do.' Picutti returned to the piano and the result was 'stellar'.
"The visiting professor said, 'That was an evening! And it was a marvelous example of student/teacher relationship.'"
"Once, long ago, I was taken by my Mother to audition for a boy choir that was forming at a nearby Methodist Church.
"Mr. Coleman Cooper was the director's name, and the Apollo Boys Choir was the Choir's name. My Mother said to Mr. Cooper, 'I don't think he has much of a voice, but I think he has a strong sense of rhythm'.
"I was placed in the soprano section, with a strong voice on either side of me. This was the status for about 3 months. Then I was placed in the alto section, the same arrangement, strong voices on either side. This arrangement was for about 2 months . Then I was changed to the 2nd Soprano section, two strong voices on either side. I had found the right niche when I was made a 2nd Soprano. In this section I remained for 6 years.
"Mr. Cooper taught us in a very clear, concise and congenial way. He was careful, considerate, painstakingly accurate in giving the sound, the quality, the intonation, for the music studied."
"Have you ever heard a voice that educated you, that thrilled you, that caused everyone to sit up and take notice? Well, I encountered such a voice when I was just nine and a half years old. His name was Byron Riggan; he was just eleven and a half years old. He was a soprano soloist; he started singing when he was 10 years old.
"Yes, he was a soprano, and what a soprano he was. When he sang, it was as if he were the entire section. He was most effective, however when as a soloist he sang "One Fine Day," "Madame Butterfly's" signal aria by Puccini.
"He did it in costume. Wig on the head, a flower in the hair, a kimono set the whole thing off. He sang so freely and so passionately that there was not a night that he sang, that he did not leave the audience spellbound and with tears in their eyes.
"He sang in Austria, France, Germany and England. His career as a boy singer ended when he was thirteen and a half years old."
"It is not often that the Fates bring together two talents that complement each other, but such was the case with Donald Collup. He was the greatest gift ever given to me in the form of a student and a voice.
"Donald came to the Texas Boys Choir when he was 10 years old. He fit into the soprano section comfortably and worked on techinique for about a year before he began to expand his horizons.
"We had a project to record the works of an English librettist, and Donald learned the songs. When it was time to record the works, Donald qualified for a number of solos. About 3 months later, I gave Donald a copy of Mozart's 'Exultate Jubilate'. This was accompanied with a recording of the work by a "fine European soprano.
"He came to me 3 days later with the entire work memorized. We worked through the second section first, the 'Alleluia', bit by bit at a time. The rehearsal was done before the group work, approximately 20 minutes every day.
"After we learned the 'Alleluia', we combined vocal technique that was suitable for the problems as they appeared. Later we worked on the other sections in the same way that we had worked the first.
"Finally, we managed to get the whole work under control . We had labored for about 3 months.
"Everything was in order. We decided to present the work intact with orchestra. We had six concerts lined up, and it was important that the first performance was successful.
"It came off, as did the follow-up concerts. He sang beautifully thereafter. Beautiful, robust, languid tones, with crisp diction. His voice opened up and became bigger and more appealing.
"A few years later, he went to Peabody Conservatory. He kept his flowing voice and developed into a fine singer."
Copyright © 2002 George Bragg
Copyright © 2002 boychoirs.org
This page was last modified on 06 December 2005