Art Beat Feature: The All-American Boys Chorus is ‘On the Road Again’

6-8 p.m., Saturday, July 6, Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 4th Ave. N., Edmonds

The Emmy Award-winning All-American Boys Chorus (AABC) is coming from Southern California to the ECA for an unforgettable summer tour performance. Perfect for all ages, these talented young men are ready to dazzle audiences with captivating harmonies, energetic choreography and a repertoire that spans genres and generations. From iconic classics to modern hits, “On the Road Again” promises an electrifying experience that will leave you singing along and tapping your toes. Get your tickets today for this magical night of music and fun.

What began as a small church choir in Anaheim, California, in 1970 has grown to become an internationally touring non-denominational chorus that fosters the creative and leadership development of over one hundred boys each year.

According to Aaron Cassaro, the CEO of the Boys Chorus, “The founder, Anthony Manrique, saw the Vienna Boys Choir perform and decided to start a chorus of his own. It started with 10 boys. Within two years, it grew from 10 to 30. Currently, the AABC has 103 boys and 2,500 alumni!”

Cassaro shared that the chorus “started with church-type songs, then became more of a barbershop chorus.” Now, the AABC boasts songs from a variety of genres, from traditional to Broadway to rock to pop. The group has performed with artists like the Pentatonix and Josh Groban and won an Emmy for their appearance on a TV show with the writers of Charlie Brown.

Songs attendees can expect at the ECA show include favorites such as Country Roads, On the Road Again, a Beach Boys Medley, a Duke Ellington Medley, and California Dreamin.” The AABC will also sing a few patriotic songs, including Salute to the US Armed Forces and God Bless the USA. The two-hour show will even have costume changes and an intermission.

“Whoever comes is going to love it,” Cassaro said. “It’s not a traditional boys choir. We’re going to get people moving around and stomping their feet, and the boys do such an amazing job!”

“I guarantee people will become fans if they come to see the show. It’s always been a mystery to me why they aren’t more well known,” said Cathy McIsaac, a parent of two former AABC members. McIsaac saw the AABC performing years ago at a mall before she had children; later, her sons joined. Her oldest is now a musician in Nashville and credits his experience in the AABC with giving him a leg up in the industry. McIsaac, who relocated from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, pushed for the Edmonds stop along the tour.

Cassaro joined in 1990 when he was just 10 years old. “It literally changed my life, probably like nothing else could have. I was kind of a problem child. I would say I gave my mom a hard time. My mom was a single mom and didn’t know what to do with me. She found the AABC, and it completely changed my life. My grades went up. It gave me something to strive for. I wanted to be a part of this and I wanted to stay in the program. It made me into a better person. Everything changed, how I was at home. I wasn’t getting in trouble anymore. I’m indebted to the program.”

All the chorus staff, except for Artistic Director Wesley Martin, are former AABC members. It’s also generational. Cassaro’s 8-year-old son just joined the chorus. “When he was born, the first thing I said was, ‘I can’t wait until he can be a member of the chorus.’”

Auditions can begin for boys as young as 7, and most beginners are between 7 and 10. The majority of the touring group is between 11 and 13.

The chorus has three divisions: Red Shirts, White Shirts and Blue Shirts. Cassaro walked through the program divisions and requirements.

The White Shirts are the audition division. Most boys who audition have had no music experience. “They need to pass the initial audition; Wesley plays some notes on the piano and has them sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ This allows Wes to see their personality. The most important thing in the initial audition is ‘how do they treat their mother.” He wants to make sure they’re being respectful and auditioning. About 95% of the boys who audition get in. Then they join that white shirt division. After about three months in the White Shirt division, there are some tests they have to take, and then they move to the Blue Shirt division, which is the training division.”

“In the Blue Shirt division, they’re getting voice lessons and begin learning to read music, and they have to memorize 39 songs; we call it our core repertoire.” Each boy is assigned to a mentor who is a member of the concert division. As the songs are memorized, the mentor signs them off.

“You’re not even allowed to put on a red shirt until you’ve earned it,” Cassaro said about the Red Shirt division. “Anyone you see in a red shirt has checked off and completed all the tasks to become that. They’ve worked very hard. I would say for 99% of the kids, at that point, it’s the biggest accomplishment they’ve made in their lives.”

Additionally, the boys work to graduate from a music reading program, essentially a college entry-level test. It takes two to four years and starts when they become blue shirts. “I would say every boy who is in it for at least four years will graduate from that program,” Cassaro said. “We have credentialed teachers who come and teach the boys how to read music.”

While on tour, the AABC will stay with families on Bainbridge Island. Other stops on their tour include Raymond, Washington; Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops, British Columbia; Jasper, Alberta; the Banff Springs Hotel; the Chateaux Lake Louise and Lakeside, Montana.

Get tickets here ($5 to $28) and enjoy a night of toe-tapping fun!

Can’t wait until July 6 to see the show? Here are some links to videos of the AABC performing:

Live at the Kennedy Center

Coca-Cola Commercial

Introduction to the Chorus

— By Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray is a freelance writer thankful to call Edmonds home. When she’s not busy wrangling her two kids (and husband), you can find her playing ukulele. She can be reached at elmm22@gmail.com.

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