I have written recently about how much I treasure the sound of boys singing, when it's done well. The tradition of boys' choirs is so important, historically speaking, because of how many top-level composers and performers got their first musical training by singing in them. That is the premise of a recent French film, Christophe Barratier's Les Choristes (released in the United States as The Chorus), which I mentioned here last January because it did so well at the box office in France. (One of the former members of the boys' choir shown in the movie becomes a famous conductor.) The movie received two Oscar nominations (Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Song for Bruno Coulais's Vois Sur Ton Chemin, performed incomprehensibly—according to Julie Delpy, with whom I agree—by Beyonce at the ceremony) but ultimately did not win. I finally got around to seeing it myself, and I loved it.
Critics have argued that the film is a saccharine fantasy, and that's true. You do not start with any group of boys in any institution of the size of the reform school in the movie and miraculously end up with Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc, from Lyon's Maîtrise de la Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the children's choir that is featured so beautifully on the soundtrack. Choirs of that caliber are not impossible to put together, but it usually requires a much more careful selection from a larger group. It is certainly possible that one particularly gifted singer could be found in just about any group, like Pierre Morhange (portrayed movingly by Jean-Baptiste Maunier, shown at right, who is one of the Saint-Marc choristers and who now enjoys almost American Idol-level celebrity in France). In my own experience teaching boys to sing, I have encountered a handful of truly exceptional voices, at about the rate of one every other year. The movie would not be as enjoyable, however, if we had to listen to a soundtrack of choral singing of a more realistic level of quality. Furthermore, the movie would not be inspiring children in France to join choirs, as it reportedly is, without the very best singing on that soundtrack (buy it from Amazon).
The Chorus (Les Choristes), Christophe Barratier (U.S. release on May 3)
On an Overgrown Path
NPR (with excerpts from the soundtrack)