Why a Men and Boys Choir?

Capella Regalis Men & Boys Choir was born in the spring of 2010 when jazz drummer/keyboardist and choir director Nick Halley decided that Nova Scotia could help rejuvenate a tradition of men and boys choirs in Canada that had all but died out. Nick is a firm believer in the educational model of the European-style men-and-boys choir resident at a cathedral, parish church or college chapel (the choirs of King’s College Cambridge, New College Oxford, Westminster Abbey, and St Paul’s Cathedral London are some of the most famous examples). In such a setting, the choristers sing weekly services, which means they must learn and perform a fresh slate of music each week. This not only speeds up the development of skills such as sight-singing; it also steeps the choristers at a young age in repertoire that Nick considers some of the most beautiful and profound music humankind has had to offer over the last eight centuries. In Capella Regalis, the choristers sing everything from Gregorian Chant to Renaissance and Baroque composers such as Byrd, Tallis, Monteverdi, Purcell, and Bach, to 20th-century composers such as Britten and Stravinsky.

Nick says, “People ask me, ‘Why a men and boys choir?’ There are so many reasons. There is the rigorous musical education it provides, but there is also a real social benefit. A men and boys choir has a built-in system of mentorship, where the boys work towards musical goals with the men of the choir, who serve as role-models for the boys. But what is even more unique about this set-up is that the boys are expected to perform on the same level as the adults in the choir. The boys sing the soprano line, which is a key role and is something the men cannot do (the men sing alto, tenor, and bass). Everyone must perform at the same level professionally. Then, when a boy’s voice changes he can transition from singing soprano to alto, tenor, or bass and the choir is able to support him through those challenging adolescent years. We currently have six graduates from the treble section who are singing in the men’s section.”

When asked about the liturgical aspect of the choir, Nick says, “It’s counter-cultural in our current time and place for boys to sing, not to mention to sing in a liturgical choir, with regular services and religious music from across the centuries. I think that it can only benefit a young mind to be introduced to religious thought and learn about the beauty and the traditions of the services – it opens the mind and makes one think, and hopefully creates greater awareness of things beyond oneself.” He adds, “The boys in the choir come from many different backgrounds, many non-religious.” Nick feels that there is value for a youngster simply in learning to stand still through a service. He has a constant feeling (and is often reminded by the boys) that Capella Regalis demands more attention and focus from them than most other things they do in school or elsewhere in their lives. Nick hopes to start a similar girls’ choir at some point in the not-too-distant future.