From Philadelphia to Lithuania, the Keystone State Boychoir is transforming lives one voice at a time

Posted 5/23/19

Members of the Keystone State Boychoir at a dress rehearsal for their Annual Holiday on the Square Concert with the Pennsylvania Girlchoir . From left: Neelmani Robinson, Trey Jones and Paul …

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From Philadelphia to Lithuania, the Keystone State Boychoir is transforming lives one voice at a time


Members of the Keystone State Boychoir at a dress rehearsal for their Annual Holiday on the Square Concert with the Pennsylvania Girlchoir . From left: Neelmani Robinson, Trey Jones and Paul Langford, III. (Photo by Carolyn Stanish)

by Sue Ann Rybak

This summer, J.S. Jenks Academy of the Arts and Sciences graduate Paul Langford III and Mt. Airy resident Boris Duke will go on a trip most 15-year-old boys can only dream of. Langford and Duke, both members of the Keystone State Boychoir, will be two of roughly 35 boys, from KSB and the New Jersey Boychoir traveling to Poland and Lithuania to sing as part of a concert tour.

Danette Moody, Langford's mother, said she didn't even know her son could sing until she saw him perform in Jenks' school musical “Aladdin.” Langford, who is currently a freshman at Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School in Roxborough, played Jasmine's father, the sultan.

“I was literally sitting there thinking 'Is that my kid,'” said Moody, 52, of West Oak Lane.

Later, a friend suggested that Paul try out for the Keystone State Boychoir. On a whim, he tried out and made it.

The choir, based in Germantown, consists of approximately 200 boys between the ages of 8 and 18 who sing repertoire from the classical to the contemporary, including Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Orff’s Carmina Burana and Handel’s Messiah.

It has sung with the region’s most prominent and renowned ensembles, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia (for which it serves as the official boychoir), and the Philadelphia Singers. The choir has performed at the region’s most notable venues including the Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, and on Broadway. KSB has also performed internationally at Manaus Opera House in Brazil, the Hanoi Opera House and Petronas Philharmonic Hall in Malaysia. In 2009, it made history when it became the first choir to have sung on every continent.

On June 17, the Keystone State Boychoir, along with the Pennsylvania Girlchoir and Garden State Girlchoir will celebrate one of Broadway’s living legends – Stephen Schwartz. More than 350 young singers will be performing favorites from acclaimed musicals such as “Godspell,” “Pippin” and “Wicked” and movies like “The Prince of Egypt” with the added thrill of being joined by special guest Stephen Schwartz.

The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus will be part of the program as well. The Commonwealth Youthchoir event: “An Evening with Stephen Schwartz” will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Verizon Hall. The concert is a great opportunity to have fun and support young singers like Langford and Duke.

Steven Fisher, who co-founded the choir with Joseph Fitzmartin in 2001, described Langford as a “strong singer.” He said Langford is a great example of why Keystone State Boychoir, under its umbrella organization Commonwealth Youthchoir, sponsors programs in under resourced public schools.

Fisher said transportation is always a challenge for students.

“So even if people want to join, if it’s too far away, it’s not possible,” he said. “So, Germantown, where the Keystone State Boychoir is based, is ideal because most families are able to get here.”

Fisher knows firsthand how upsetting it can be for a child when parents with limited resources are unable to juggle work and their child’s school and after-school activities.

“I made into the Philadelphia Boys Choir, but my parents couldn't make the commitment; So, I rectified that by starting my own choir,” said Fisher, who worked for the Philadelphia Boys Choir before co-founding the KSB.

The Temple University graduate said that while he loves the Philadelphia Boys Choir, the two choirs are very different.

“The Philadelphia Boys Choir has a very different aesthetic,” Fisher said. “The boys stand very straight, and they lock index fingers behind their back.”

He explained that by nature boys are fidgety and by locking their index fingers behind their back their hands are not distracting.

Fisher said the Keystone State Boychoir prefers to “let their bodies sing with their voices.” He added that part of his vision for the choir is to “channel the energy of boys into incredible music making.”

“I would like to think when you see our boys, you see the energy of boys, but in a way that is disciplined and special,” he said. “It’s not meant to criticize Philly Boychoir, but it’s a different aesthetic. I think that is what makes it great. It’s just two different styles.

“In the world of boychoir and girlchoir – like any other business – it’s fun but competitive. We both support each other.”

“Music is a great equalizer,” said Fisher. “When you are all singing a song, it doesn't matter who your parents are or where you are from.”

He recalled how two boys from very different economic and social backgrounds became close friends the first year they founded the chorus.

“I remember the first time they were playing cards on the plane together,” he said. “The one boy said, ‘It's kind of cramped back here’ and the other boy was like 'This is awesome' The wealthy boy had never been in coach before, and the other boy had never been on a plane before. And there they were playing cards together, and touring and singing together. That's really the value of the Keystone State Boychoir as opposed to a school choir or city choir.”

Fischer said that on June 27, members of KSB choir and NJB choir will travel to Krakow, Poland, where they will be hosted by families of the First High School Choir. Together they will perform a joint concert and sing at a service at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral (Kosciól swietego Piotra i Pawla) in the city of Legnica.

While in Poland, the boys will also sing with the Cathedral Boychoir in Tarnow, performing at the Europe-Africa Regional Little League Baseball Tournaments in Kutno in honor of the league’s founder and the late Philadelphian Edward J. Piszek, and participating in a friendship concert for Philadelphia’s medieval sister city of Torun.

While in Lithuania, the boys will stay with members of the Gaustas Choir in Lazdijai, a small town with a population of roughly 5,000 people located at the Polish border.

A highlight of the trip will be a joint concert honoring Lithuanian Independence Day, July 6. The boys will also visit the famous Trakai Castle and are also invited to travel to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to sing both the United States and Lithuanian national anthems at the American Chamber of Commerce 4th of July picnic.

If you know a boy between the ages of 8 and 18 who would like to like try out for the Keystone State Boychoir, email or go to Boys in fourth grade or lower do not need an audition to join, but a meeting with the parent and prospective singer is required.