Chestnut Hill resident Nick Hanson, soloist in this picture, is seen here with Keystone State Boychoir friends at the Oslo City Hall Plaza during their tour of Norway last month. In the 60-boy choir, five are from Chestnut Hill, and 10 are from Mt. Airy.

N.W. Philly kids sing for those who have no voice

By Sally Cohen

The Keystone State Boychoir (KSB), which includes five Chestnut Hill residents and 10 Mt. Airy residents among its 60 members, embarked on a concert tour of Norway in mid-June in memory of the young people who lost their lives to a neo-Nazi mass murderer on Utøya Island in 2011. The choir’s itinerary included Oslo and six smaller cities.

“As Norway and the world approach the one-year anniversary of this terrible day,” said conductor Steven Fisher before KSB left Philadelphia, “the boys will lift their voices in song as a way to remember. Sadly, we Americans know first-hand this kind of painful, senseless loss of life. It was a boy’s idea to sing our concerts in Norway in memory of these young people.”

In Oslo, KSB was hosted by the renowned boychoir Sølvguttene. The choirs performed at a Nobel Peace Center event June 16. From Philadelphia, KSB had in its possession four miniature Liberty Bells from Mayor Michael Nutter. This symbol of American freedom was presented to Ambassador Barry B. White at the US Embassy on June 14.

Under the direction of co-founders Joseph Fitzmartin and Steven Fisher, Keystone State Boychoir consists of 160 members between the ages of 8 and 18 from diverse backgrounds. KSB has sung with most distinguished ensembles, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, serving as the latter’s official boychoir. KSB members from Chestnut Hill are 
Cameron Brown
, Rowan Goudy, Nick Hanson
, Ricardo Jaramillo and Adam Saah. Those from Mt. Airy are Noah Anninger, 
Tremayne Bundy, Will Hence IV, 
Jesse Kahn, 
Avery Mitchell
, Jake Norman, 
Pedro Ramos, 
Jack Schmieg, 
Noah Shipley and 
Jelani Wheeler.

Recently, KSB made its debut on Broadway in a presentation of Oliver!, starring Tony-award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell. Internationally, KSB has performed in venues throughout Brazil, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Monaco, France, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Chile.

In 2009, KSB made history by being the first choir to travel to, and sing in, Antarctica. By doing so, it became the first choir to sing on all seven continents. The boys have nicknamed this concert tour, “In the steps of Admundson.” After its visit to Svalbard, KSB is, like the great Norwegian explorer, the “first” to reach both the Antarctic and Arctic Circles. “They will officially be the boychoir with latitude attitude,” said Fisher.

When the group was still in Norway (they returned on June 27), Fisher sent us the following message: “Well, if this isn’t the most beautiful corner or the world I’ve ever seen… Four and half hours  (on a train) of breathtaking scenery. Train change in Myrdal, and a very serious descent down the Flam Railway. Thrilling. Oh, and a very bizarre, surreal stop at a gorgeous waterfall.

“When we reached Flam, we did a mini-concert in exchange for ice cream. Really. Well worth it and an even exchange based on the Norwegian kroner. The boys are getting a crash course in fiscal restraint. You cannot believe how expensive this country is. To give you and idea, a candy bar is five dollars.

“From Flam, we took a ferry to Aurland, where we were enchanted by seagulls that flew so close to our boat that we could literally touch them. They were as white and pure as freshly fallen Norwegian snow. Just as pesky as those Philadelphia pigeons, but much more well groomed.
Arriving in Aurland, a village of 1200 people, we were astounded with scenery even more breathtaking than what we had seen so far …

“Our venue was a quaint 800-year-old church, magnificent in its simplicity. Every bit as moving as the largest cathedral in Europe in its own intimate way. The question was, would anyone come to the performance. This is not the sort of thing that happens in Aurland. And we were competing with the town high school graduation. Well, much to our surprise, we packed the house. The audience could not have been more delighted. The connection between us and our audience was palpable. I wish I could have transported each and every KSB tour parent to this charming space to witness the sort of bond that your sons create instantaneously through song. It was very special …

“Oh, and one really fun thing happened today. We met up with a couple from Israel who had already heard us three times in Norway. To thank them for their groupie-like loyalty, the grads surrounded them and serenaded them with “Oseh Shalom.” Very moving tour moment. Caught up in the moment, they invited KSB to Israeli. The man said he’ll give us his credit card. He shouldn’t make such offers!”

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