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Boston Archdiocesan Choir School: Wikis


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Boston Archdiocesan Choir School
BACS logo.png
Repleátur os meum laude tua
("Let My Mouth Be Filled with Praise for You")
29 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA, U.S.
Type Private, day school
Religious affiliation Roman Catholic
Established 1963
Principal Sheri Kenney
Headmaster-Music Director Emeritus John Dunn
Faculty 13
Grades 5-8
Enrollment 57 boys (by audition)
Campus Urban
Color(s) Maroon      

The Boston Archdiocesan Choir School (BACS) is a fully-accredited choir school for boys in grades 5-8 and is affiliated with St. Paul Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school is one of a small number of boychoir schools in North America, and is the only one affiliated with the Catholic Church. Its performing arm, the Boston Boy Choir, sings for liturgical services at the church and performs within the Boston area and elsewhere.

Visitors to Harvard Square, especially Roman Catholics or choir boy fans, often stop at St. Paul for Sunday Mass to hear the boys. The pastor has been heard to jest that only the locals know that St. Paul Parish serves the students of Harvard. The rest of the world knows St. Paul's as the "Home of the Boston Boy Choir."



BACS was founded by Theodore Marier, the result of decades of work spent renewing the liturgical and musical traditions at St. Paul.[1] Dr. Marier had been affiliated with music at St. Paul Parish since 1934 and, about the same time he was taking over the choir, the pastor at the time, Msgr. Hickey, was inspired by the papal encyclical Mediator Dei to encourage congregational participation. This was unusual in a time when the choir or altar boys gave all the responses. It was Marier's experience that the Gregorian Chant was ideally suited both to congregational singing and for musical nourishment. Gradually, the parish developed the habit of singing the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). In 1958, the Vatican's Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy continued the directive that every parish should have a boys choir but especially encouraged that "every effort must be made that the faithful of the entire world know how to give the responses in chant."

The St. Paul's Choir School, as it was originally called, began in 1963 with twenty-five students chosen from throughout the archdiocese. Under the direction of Dr. Marier, the young musicians sang in the parish choir with members of the Harvard Catholic Club. Harvard students also helped out with the recreation program. The school was designed as a four-year course for students of academic ability and musical talent, assigning two periods of each school day to music, plus an hour after school. The music program included sight reading, tone placement, appreciation, theory and history, and instrumental studies.

The first years of what was later renamed the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School were extraordinary. The choir made guest appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, with the Boston Philharmonic, and with the Handel and Haydn Society. They performed annually with the Boston Ballet in the Nutcracker Suite, with Arthur Fiedler conducting.

When the choir school began, it was housed in the building that had been the parish school in a building that was built in 1891. By the 1960s, however, St. Paul School had been experiencing declining enrollment as more families moved out of Cambridge to the suburbs. After several more years, the parish school closed and the choir school remained in the space. Eventually that building was torn down after being declared unsafe.[2] Since 1991, the school has operated in a newly-built 4-story multipurpose building on the same location as the old school. The current building houses the St. Paul's rectory, parish offices, and the Harvard Catholic Student Center in addition to BACS.[3]

Dr. Marier was succeeded as director by John Dunn, who has taught at the school since it was founded.[4] John Dunn retired from the school in 2008 and was succeeded by his former Assistant Music Director, Jennifer Lester. Ms. Lester resigned in May 2009 and Mr. Dunn has returned as Headmaster-Music Director Emeritus for the interim for the current academic year until a permanent successor is named.


The Boston Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul Church, Cambridge, a musically intensive, academically rigorous, Catholic day school for boys in grades five through eight, strives to engage young men in the development of their intellectual and musical talents and to inspire them to use their gifts for the greater glory of God.

Unique in the United States, the school identifies and accepts from the greater Boston area, boys who are musically talented and academically qualified. In the context of a Catholic environment, students are offered an intensive musical training, a varied academic program, and a solid moral, spiritual formation.

The school seeks to develop the diverse musical talents of each boy so that he may use his musical gifts for the greater glory of God, enriching the liturgical services at St. Paul Church and serving the community at large by the performance of master works of choral literature.

Through diverse academic offerings, the school aspires to give each student a strong foundation in basic skills and to provide multiple opportunities for enrichment, so that BACS graduates may continue their formation in secondary schools recognized for their academic excellence.

Caring, dedicated teachers who model Christian values strive in a small and personal school community to foster the moral, ethical, and spiritual growth of each student in order to define his relationship to God, to encourage a genuine understanding and respect of others, and to develop a strong sense of commitment and service to both individuals and communities.


BACS became fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2007. The visiting committee was impressed with the unique atmosphere at BACS where music is so tightly integrated into the curriculum. Their report states:

"It was observed that [BACS] is a tight-knit, exuberant school community where music is the centerpiece, and joyful learning is evident in each person and in every aspect of the program. There is an informal, lively atmosphere surrounding the intense learning that is in progress."

"[BACS]'s program is values-based and sets goals of spiritual formation, excellence, responsibility, and service to others. By modeling these values and living their meaning in the daily life of the school, teachers and administrators motivate students to embrace the same values in their own lives and carry them to other communities whom they touch."

School Life Today

Students at BACS attend school full-time, completing a rigorous academic program in addition to daily rehearsals and singing at liturgy four times a week. Students have a tuition-less "working scholarship", singing at weddings, funerals and concerts throughout the school year.[4] The busiest times of the year for the choir are Christmas and Easter. All students at BACS study mathematics, science, computers, language arts, social studies, religion, geography, French and art. The upper grades are taught a combined history and literature class, which is unusual for such young students and was modeled after an undergraduate course at Harvard. In addition to these academic subjects, students have classes in music, choir, recorder, piano and handbells. In order to accommodate the extensive curriculum, students at BACS have a longer school day. There are no school sports teams, but students have physical education once a week and nearly every student participates in sports outside of school. Periodic travel for the choir combining educational sightseeing and performing is a tradition at BACS. Over the years, the boys have visited cities such as Chicago, Montreal, Washington, DC, and Rome. While in Rome in 2005, the choir sang at a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica and at the Church of Santa Susanna. The choir has sung at Mass on multiple occasions at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, DC, most recently in 2007. The school also recently sang the national anthem at a Red Sox game in April 2009. Another tradition at BACS is the choir's signature choral piece, "A Gaelic Blessing" by John Rutter, which is always sung at important moments for the choir, such as the investiture ceremony for incoming 5th graders and 8th grade graduation. Parents are actively involved in the life of the school; nearly 100% of families are represented at each month's Parent Guild meeting.Many of these boys receive scholarships from prominent high schools in the greater Boston area.

Students and Faculty

The student body of BACS is 50-60 boys each year. New students are accepted only in 5th grade and are chosen by audition. Students commute to Harvard Square from various cities and towns throughout the greater Boston area, sometimes traveling more than an hour each way. Most students at BACS are Roman Catholic and many previously attended parochial schools, but there are also non-Catholic students. The faculty includes the headmaster/music director, the assistant music director, the principal (who also teaches) and several piano teachers, in addition to those who teach regular academic subjects.


In order to enroll at BACS, students must be screened both musically and academically. Auditions take place in one of two ways. The headmaster has relationships with several parochial schools in the Boston area and makes annual spring visits to listen to and observe the 4th grade boys. The parents of any boys who appear to be good candidates are then invited to bring their sons in for a private audition. Parents can also request a private audition on their own. The audition mainly consists of singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat, singing different pitches, and marching to various rhythms. Students who pass this screening are then given a reading test. Students must test a full year ahead of grade level in order to handle the rigorous academics expected of students at BACS. In any given year, between 10 and 20 boys are selected for the incoming 5th grade class. It should be noted that, while all students become choristers, most had never been identified as singers before. In fact, a child who is considered a singing "star" may not be a good candidate; choir singing requires teamwork. The ideal candidate is one who is musical, can handle the workload and who is willing to be part of a team effort.

Performances and Recordings

The Boston Boy Choir performs at various times throughout the school year and on rare occasions in the summer. The choir sings at 4 weekday morning masses and on Sundays. There are three annual Christmas concerts for the public in addition to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. At Easter, the choir performs at services throughout Holy Week, including the Easter Vigil. The last major performance of the year is the annual Spring Concert. All of these are performed at St. Paul Church and, except for the weekday masses, include the St. Paul Men's Schola. The concerts also include orchestral accompaniment and guest soloists and performances by a select group of students who make up the BACS Handbell Choir. In addition, the Boston Boy Choir is hired to perform at various times for weddings, funerals, private parties and concerts at other venues. In 2006, the choir performed a concert of Christmas music for CatholicTV and over the years they have recorded a series of CDs which are available for purchase at concerts.


Prominent Performances

With the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus:

With the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Boston:

With the Opera Company of Boston at Boston Opera House:

With the Back Bay Chorale:

At the Maryland State Boychoir Festival:


  • Mahler's Symphony No. 8 (Ozawa/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Robinson, Blegen et al./Philips) (in Philips #470871)
  • Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust (Ozawa/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Mathis, Burrows et al./Deutsche Grammophon) (#423 907-2, #453 019-2)

BACS Recordings:

  • O Holy Night (BACS Recordings BR-192, CD) 1992. Boston Boy Choir with the Saint Paul Men's Schola and the BACS Handbell Choir, John Dunn (director), Timothy Hughes (organist), Mark Nemeskal (tenor)
  • Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (BACS Recordings BR-193, CD) 1993. Music for Choir, Organ, Trumpet and Handbells. Boston Boy Choir, John Dunn (director), Timothy Hughes (organist)
  • Sing Noel (BACS Recordings BR-194, CD) 1994. Boston Boy Choir with The Saint Paul Men's Schola and Beacon Brass, John Dunn (director), Timothy Hughes (organist)
  • Wondrous Love (BACS Recordings BR-196, CD) 1996. Celebrating Music of the Liturgical Year. Boston Boy Choir with John Dunn (director), Timothy Hughes (organist) with handbells, strings & brass
  • On Christmas Night (BACS Recordings, CD) 2000. Commemorating the new Melenium, the Boston Boy Choir, John Dunn, director, presents this recording of traditional Christmas music. The recording features the Boston Boy Choir, the Beacon Brass, and the BACS Handbell Choir.
  • The Holly and The Ivy (BACS Recordings, CD) 2007. In honor of 45 years of excellence, John Dunn leads the Boston Boy Choir for his final year as Headmaster/Music Director. This recording also features the world reknowed Christmas Cantata by Daniel Pinkham.

All recordings can be purchased via the Boston Boy Choir website:


  1. ^ Alters, Diane (June 9, 1986). "He gave Cambridge church music for 52 years". Boston Globe: p. 13 (Metro).  
  2. ^ Hirshson, Paul (March 22, 1987). "Cambridge church plan clears a hurdle". Boston Globe: p. 47 (Metro).  
  3. ^ Marchocki, Kathryn (November 2, 1991). "Cardinal Law helps dedicate rectory in Harvard Square". Boston Herald: p. a01.  
  4. ^ a b Radsken, Jill (December 13, 1992). "Hark, the student 'angels' sing...". Boston Herald: p. 037.  
  5. ^ Rothstein, Edward (January 30, 1983). "Concert: Ozawa's 'Faust'". New York Times.  
  6. ^ Dyer, Richard (January 22, 1983). "Soloists excel in BSO's Faust". Boston Globe.  
  7. ^ Pincus, Andrew L. (August 11, 1985). "Tanglewood stages Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion'". New York Times.  
  8. ^ Smith, Tim (May 15, 2007). "A Weekend of Various Voices". Baltimore Sun.  

External links


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