Thursday, July 12, 2007

A View from Ike (Eric Anderson)

The Midwest Tour this year was excellent. The organization of the tour was superb, and the whole experience was a lot of fun. One of my favorite experiences was the City Museum in St. Louis. It was filled inside and out with old objects to climb on. It is very difficult to describe, but it made me feel like a small child at a massive playground. One particularly humorous incident was when Kellen, and then I, tried to squeeze through a tight passage. Neither of us was successful. Then Henry, larger than either of us, gets through. Kellen and I were both inspired and made it eventually. (See Mrs. Walls for pictures.) The museum was unique, unlike any other place I have ever been.
The concerts were good too. Our first concert in Kansas City was superb. We had an excellent energy, and the songs just seemed to click.
Tour was also a great time to get to know the guys in Kantorei better and to meet the people in the other choirs we sang with. Though I was a little worried at first, the “lock-in” with the Kansas City choir was a fun time to get to meet them. I even was able to play basketball with a number of their members.
The chaperones this year could not have been better. Each one of them was wonderful and deserves much thanks. One in particular comes to mind: Dr. Prabhakar, better known as Doc Prabhak. He was the head chaperone (and mine too). My group awarded him the “Most Song-Inspiring Chaperone.” Many songs were parodied in his honor.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


It was a great tour! We had a great time with your boys. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Lunch at Japanica

Bus Time Fun

Trivia and singing for lost items became bus entertainment.


We will miss you!

Homestay Pairings

Friday in Fond du Lac

When the boys arrived in the parking lot following their home stays, the melancholy feel of the last big travel day of the tour was evident. They knew that they had 6.5 hours of travel ahead of them on the road to Fond du Lac. Since we had a lot of free time on our hands, we entertained ourselves in various ways. Mrs. Steffan each day has been giving awards to all of the boys. These have ranged from most distinctive voice, best smile, to quickest recovery from a suddenly loosened tie. The boys looked forward to the awards each day, wondering when their turn would come. The boys today came up with awards for their own chaperones. Earlier in the tour, all the female chaperones received funny hats from the boys and Dr. Williams received Dorothy braids in honor of our proximity to Kansas. The chaperone awards are stated below:

Mr. Ross got the “Perfectionist, Professional” award. As all of you know by now, the excellence of this choir and the life lessons they receive by being in this choir are a direct result of his influence on the boys and this organization. All the boys enjoy the excellence of their musical education and it is nice to see that they realize it is because of Mr. Ross' relentless pursuit of perfection.

Mrs. Knight received the ‘Very Nice Smile’ award. The boys felt that whenever they looked at her on stage and off they enjoyed seeing her smiles of encouragement. The future of our choir is the young boys who ascend to the performing choir. With Mrs. Knight our prospects are excellent.

The ‘Always smiling’ award went to Mrs. Mary Jo Ross for her wonderful demeanor and sunny disposition. She was the perfect saleswoman at the CD table. Her quiet demeanor belies strength of character that we have all come to know and love. And when she laughs really hard, tears stream down her cheeks.

The ‘Best Chaperone Ever’ award went to Mrs. Kathy Walls who was the one who got ‘in the mix’ with the boys. The boys went after her in laser tag, because of her army training, and she rode roller coasters till she dropped at Worlds of Fun. She was also our unofficial liaison with Gary, the bus driver whom she bonded with due to their military background. For the record, she outranked him.

Dr. Farion Williams won the ‘Recovering Dr. Pepper Addict’ award. He has been trying to give up that brand of soda during tour and has lost weight. In fact when he was at Worlds of Fun, he tried the ‘guess your weight’ game and thought the carnival barker had guessed too low, but as he stepped on the scale it didn’t go up as high as he expected, but he still won a basketball by the margin of one pound. Dr. Williams is a cheerful and tireless worker who is good to the core. We could not have asked for a more compassionate and professional tour physician.

Our mistress of the wardrobe, Mrs. Steffan, received the 'Most Positive' award. As a teacher, she realizes that the best way to change boys behavior is by positive reinforcement. She doesn't yell or scream, she talks and explains. The boys have absolutely adored her methods and love to talk and joke with her, especially the younger boys. And with her and Mrs. Walls the wardrobe has been crisp and the routine of changes and returns of clothing are organized and efficient.

The ‘Best in Show’ award went to our tour director, Pam Hasting. For what reason, we are not really sure. Jake Hier’s rambling announcement left us all laughing and confused. She was a favorite of the boys due to her quick wit and easygoing nature. The time that she has put in to make this tour a success boggles the imagination. She is what made this tour run as smoothly as it did. This position is an extremely thankless one, so please be sure to express your gratitude to her for a job well done.

I then surveyed the boys on what were the most memorable parts of tour. A large percentage of the boys liked the City Museum in St. Louis. They cited the chance to be a child again and climb on a giant jungle gym. They described it as a large interactive sculpture or piece of art that one can admire as well as climb on. They liked the fact that you had to contort yourself and climb awkwardly to achieve an apex from which they could slide down. Many of them liked the large ball pit where they made it into one large game of dodge ball. Other boys like the Arch where they liked the birds-eye view of the city as well the scenic vista of the Mississippi river extending alongside the city.

Still others felt that the highlight of their tour was the day we spent at Worlds of Fun riding the roller coasters, water rides and the spinning rides. There were a few boys who enjoyed the Baldknobbers preshow, and many of them cited the home stays and the opportunity to meet new people and choirs. But one of the boys summed it up best when he said the best part is hanging out with your old friends and getting to know some new ones. The best memories of tour will be the heartfelt talks between boys, as they discuss dreams, aspirations, philosophy and of course, girls.

We arrived in Fond du Lac about 20 minutes late and then after a quick rehearsal, were treated to a dinner of tacos. Many of the senior boy's parents came to the last concert to see them sing in Kantorei for the last time. The finality of finishing high school and moving on seems to hit many of them on this night. As we sat at the ice cream social after the concert, the parents and chaperones offered their congratulation and thanks for making it through and being a positive role model for the younger boys. The home stay families took the boys away and we as chaperones prepared for our last day on tour.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Girls, Girls Girls

If it’s Thursday, it must be Des Moines. Well to be accurate, we started in Kansas City and drove to Des Moines. The La Quinta had a pool and said they would let us swim early until we had to leave. However, there was a pool pump problem. The boys however thought that it was a plot to keep them out of the pool. Several of the younger boys were found pacing the hallways in anticipation of the moment it was open. It felt like the start of an Olympic race, for as the part clicked into place on the pool cleaner, the boys burst through the gate and dove into the pool. After swimming and eating Subway sandwiches for lunch, we boarded the bus for our ride to Des Moines.

The concert was held on the campus of Drake University. Many of you may know it for the nationally famous Drake Relays, an annual track and field event held here. It is a typical college campus, with walking paths lined with hardwoods and other mature trees with stately buildings. The only thing missing was the students. This concert was highly anticipated by the boys in this choir. Why, you ask? Because the Heartland Choir has girls (actual female singers) on stage with the boys at the same time. The hormonal surge was palpable as the sopranos and altos of the other choir filed into Sheslow Auditorium. As they joined us for ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’, only then did the older boys realize that the sopranos and altos would be with the younger boys. The forlorn look as these young women were interspersed among the ‘little guys’ was priceless.

The boys sang with the heartland tenor/basses on Loch Lomond and we got to hear standard SATB arrangements. Somehow we have grown used to the boy choir sound and now find a standard choir somehow lacking, but I think that happens to some extent to all parents of Kantorei members. We witnessed the most spirited renditions of Chatanooga Choo Choo and Walk/Sing that we have ever seen. We should bus in girls for all of our concerts and they would improve right away. After the concert, a few of the girls in their black gowns attempted to help pack up the drums and bass. They faux struggled to unscrew the high hat, somehow needing assistance and help with the smallest task. The boys descended on these girls like the 17-year cicadas and in the 10 minutes as the home stays were assigned; IM and email addresses were exchanged. The boys then were off to their respective homes for their nightly meet and greet.

Drake University - Des Moines, Iowa

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Worlds of Fun

The next morning, the sleeping room where all the boys were, was a shambles. But by the time the rest of the chaperones arrived, the boys were packed and ready to go. Mrs. Cindy Williams brought all of their sleeping bags here, and then took them all home so that we did not have to schlep them all over the Midwest. Please take an opportunity to thank her for going above and beyond the call of duty of a Kantorei parent. We then were treated to a breakfast smorgasbord with pancakes, sausages, bacon and fruit. We then headed with our full bellies to Worlds of Fun.

Worlds of fun was started in 1973 by Lamar Hunt, the late owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who was a land developer in Kansas City. Just south of the park is Subtropolis, an 1100 acre, 55 million sq ft man made limestone cave which is claimed to be the world's largest underground business complex. The park is loosely based on the Jules Verne book, around the world in 80 days. The main areas are divided into Africa, Europa, Scandinavia, the Orient and Americana. The park is now run by Cedar Fair, the same company which runs Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio the mecca for all roller coaster riders. The high points of the day were the suspended coaster, the Patriot which one group of boys rode 6 times in a row. The highest and steepest drop was on the Mamba which also was the fastest with a top speed of 73 mph. There were also several water rides such as the Viking Voyager and Fury of the Nile. Then there is the Monsoon. Now the interesting thing about the Monsoon is that there is an observation bridge which after the plunge, the boat goes under. Several of the boys and I went to get on the ride and Mrs. Ross stayed behind and thought they would watch from the bridge. Well as soon as the boat hit the bottom it sent a giant tidal wave of water which completely envelops the people on the bridge. I know many of you have heard the expression soaked to the bone, well you can only imagine what they looked like. Then when we got off the ride, the chaperones stood off to the side of the bridge as the boys waited for the next boat. Well, the secondary wave which sprays off at a 45 degree angle hit us full force even as we ran as fast as we could.
We met for lunch at the Tivoli Terrace where we had a buffet of fried chicken, barbecue sandwiches, fruit and chocolate chip cookies. We tried to warn all the boys to stay away from the rides on a full stomach, most listened, but a few learned a lesson that will stick with them for a long time. Surprisingly few boys took on the carnival type games, but one notable was Michael Dean who came back sporting a big pink Care Bear, you will have to ask him if it is for him or someone else.

We boarded the bus at 5 pm and made our way to Smokehouse BBQ. The boys ate their fill of Kansas City Style BBQ. Kansas City-style BBQ traces its roots back to Henry Perry who sold slow cooked BBQ for 25 cents a slab on newsprint beginning in 1908. The Memphis and KC style are similar slow cooked in deep pits, but the KC style emphasizes using as much sauce as possible. The restaurant took off during the heyday of jazz in the 20's and 30's. Perry's proteges, the Bryants took over that restaurant that still operates today. We were more than happy with our choices and headed to the La Quinta Inn for a long sleep following two happy, but tiring days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Worlds of Fun - Kansas City, MO

He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother

The morning after a homestay, good or bad, seems to have an almost palpable buzz of excitement. The boys often come back with stories, phone numbers and also a remembrance of the city they stayed in. This morning in Kansas City was no different. They came from many homes, some with only one other, some came in a large group. Although they enjoy the stay, all of them are glad to return to the fold.

At the start of 20th century, the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company decided that they needed a new location due to flooding problems. They chose an architect named Jarvis Hunt, a proponent of the city beautiful program to design the structure. The Beaux Arts Station opened in 1914 as the thrid largest train station in the country. There are 3 gigantic chandeliers, a 95 foot ceiling and the main clock has a six foot diameter face. Passenger rail service peaked in 1945 and declined thereafter until the station essentially closed in 1985 after commuter service was withdrawn. In 1996 a bistate tax was levied to subsidize half of the 500 million dollar renovation which was completed in 1999. It is now a beautiful reminder of yesteryear along with an Imax theatre, Science City, planetarium and the Irish Cultural Center Museum. They also have a passageway to excellent shopping and restaurants. We were fortunate enough to sing in the Great Hall with risers and keyboard and to hear the wonderful echoes of yesterday and today. You could almost hear the loud train whistles from locomotives of a bygone era. Several boys and the director of the Kansas City Boys Choir came to see us perform. The boys took to them immediately. We then had lunch at the station, most of the boys shopped, a good percentage of them watched the 3-D Dinosaur movie and generally stretched their legs before getting back on the bus to head to our dinner at Sterling Acres Baptist Church.

We unloaded and changed for the concert after a dinner provided to us by the mothers of some of the boys in the choir. We went to Community Christian Church in the Plaza in Kansas City. Though the crowd was sparse, we loved hearing their choir. They are significantly smaller than us, but no less enthusiastic and remarkably talented. Most of the music their director, Ah'Lee Robinson, has written and arranged. Their style draws from gospel, R & B, spiritual and soul. Their is a sister girls choir, but they rarely perform together. He helps them train, but as an african-american leader, he also helps to mold them into strong male role models in a community which lacks for them. At the conclusion of the concert, the two choirs combined to sing, 'He Ain't Heavy, He's my brother', which was as moving for its message as for its beauty.

After the concert, the boys went to a sleep-over/lock-in at the Baptist Church where they played basketball, ran around and talked with the boys from KCBC. They all seemed to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to share with each other. Hopefully, friendships and kinships can be formed which will last a lifetime.

We're Going to Kansas City...Hey, Hey, Hey

The mornings of all of our travel days had been bright and beautiful, however this time the fates conspired against us. We had planned to go to Branson Landing, a conglomeration of shops along Lake Taneycomo, but they are all separate and the walk ways are uncovered. They also have an extraordinary fountain made by the same designer as the lighted fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. An hour before we left, the heavens opened up and poured out rain, thunder and lightning. Since we were in a situation of biblical proportions, we made a mid course correction and headed for Dick's Old Time 5&10. I don't think many of our boys remember the days of local 5 and dime stores in the downtown of every small city. With the Wal-mart era, these are few and far between. They enjoyed the wide variety of trinkets and odds and ends which characterized these stores, some of seniors picked up bamboo curtains for college, while other boys obtained flip out combs and plastic models. We then boarded the bus for Kansas City.

The plains of Kansas and Missouri are a misnomer, for there are valleys and lakes, limestone bluffs and wide rivers which were formed again as the glaciers inched across North America. Lewis and Clark, during their exploration of the Louisiana territory, camped at the Kansas and Missouri rivers. This commanding view from that bluff became Quality Hill and a plaque commemorating the expedition lies near downtown. Although not established till later that century by fur traders with a need for beaver pelts, the town of Kansas City wasn't incorporated until 1889. They tossed around names for the site like Possum Trot and Rabbitville, but chose to name it after the local indian tribe the Kanza, and the town of Kansas was established in 1838. Now many of you may have heard the song, Kansas City, in Oklahoma and in many ways because of its location at the confluence of the two great rivers, Kansas City became a forerunner of Las Vegas. The papers called it a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. William Rockhill Nelson moved to town from Indiana and used his newspaper to instigate change. They created sidwealks, and large green spaces and hired a landscape architect to help celebrate the city's topography. They created the country's second largest city park and it now bears his name. He helped create the modern city we know today and for its prosperity and rich jazz tradition. The name 'Athens of the West' was a name borne from that time.

We arrived at the home church of Mrs. Roxanne Reith, where her father was a minister and they treated us to a delicious meal prior to the concert and a splendid reception afterwards. There was lots of fresh fruit for the boys, so Mr. Ross declared this the winner of the best reception award. We had a wonderful concert, the acoustics seemed made for a group of our size and a capacity house seemed to bring out the best in the boys. The only sad note was bidding goodbye to Henry Solberg, one of our seniors who will be going to some advanced music camps and leaving with his mother after the concert. His easygoing charm and understated humor will be missed. The boys then gathered for their homestays and the chaperones and the boys will sleep well.

Kansas City, MO

Monday, June 11, 2007

Spirit of Branson

Sunday morning began as a glorious bright sunshine day. Since we were not scheduled to sing this morning, several of the boys availed themselves of the opportunity to attend sunday worship services at two local churches. The pastor at the Lutheran church welcomed the boys and spoke about how impressed with the piety of these young boys. They said they would have loved to have them sing at their church and invited the boys to stay at their church. They seemed to be most impressed with the bus that dropped them off more than anything. At least we have a place to sing if we ever return. Many of the boys chose to sleep in, and given the hectic schedule, that was not a bad choice. Many of them swam in the pool, ate breakfast and several sang around the grand piano in the lobby. The tenors and basses have begun spontaneously bursting into Vive L'Amour whenever we are in a public venue. It certianly turns heads and the boys love the attention. This Sunday morning served to recharge our batteries, physically and spiritually.

For lunch we ate at Mel's Hard Luck Diner where all the waitstaff double as crroners. I think that just like in Nashville, every working person harbors aspirations of being a star. Each waitperson had their own personal CDs for sale in the gift shop. We heard everything from country to motown to Captain and Tenille. We then took a short hop over to Spirit of the Dance. The crowd was not as big, but was just as responsive to the boys. Especially for Chatanooga Choo Choo. The stage manager asked how many costume changes we would be having and whether we needed a changing room. I didn't realize why he asked until we saw the show. There must have been 20 costume changes. The spirit of the dance was a high energy dance marathon with both Celtic, modern and jazz dance elements with dramatic music and lightning. The boys seemed enraptured by the performance, or it might have been the costumes of the female performers.

After a quick change and freshening up, we went to Papa Grand's pizza for a buffet. The boys seemed to have a ravenous appetite, apparently many of them were exhausted just watching the dancers. The seniors stayed behind to go out for their senior dinner. This annual tradition gives Mr. Ross and Mrs. Knight an opportunity to spend time with the senior boys on their last tour and for the boys to express their gratitude to their directors and for what Kantorei has meant to them. The seniors bought a very nice Mandolin for Mr. Ross and some musical spoons and a washboard for Mrs. Knight to use with the prep choiirs. They enjoyed a lovely meal and then videotaped interviews with Mr. Ross for future generations of Kantorei boys to see. The other boys enjoyed the Branson Fun Factory with a game of laser tag and then glow-in-dark mini golf. The boys were more competetive with each other at golf than at laser tag, if that seems possible. We then headed home and celebrated the birthday of one of the boys with cake and singing. Mentally, physically and spiritually, it was a fulfilling day.

Mel's Hard Luck Diner - Lunch

The wait staff double as entertainers.

Pre Show at the Baldknobbers

First Stop in Branson -- Ride the Ducks

Sunday, June 10, 2007

St. Louis Arch

In line waiting to go up the Arch, in the tram, at the top.

City Museum - St. Louis

Go Thomas! Climb.

View next couple backwards. They posted in reverse order. :)

Kantorei Goes Country

We began our next morning by bidding good-bye to the city of St. Louis. Some of the boys looked ragged and took advantage of the long bus ride to sleep on the bus. Our bus ride was an ear-popping experience as we ascended the Ozark mountains. As you may know, the Ozarks were not formed by continental collision or volcanic activity, but by the erosion and land movement of the glaciers. We stopped at a rest stop and again the boys played some Frisbee outside. Branson and the Ozarks gained popularity first in 1907 when Harold Bell Wright’s novel, ‘Shepherd of the Hills’, first started attracting visitors to this area. Then when the Ozark Beach Dam and Table Rock Dam created Lake Taneycomo with plenty of fishing and boating opportunities. Then entertainment opportunities such as the outdoor pageant based on ‘Shepherd’, Silver Dollar City and then the Baldknobber’s jamboree in 1959 drew larger crowds to the area. Then many big name stars such as Roy Clark, Box Car Willie, Lawrence Welk and Andy Williams built large theaters and created the family centric atmosphere and music activities for which it has become famous. Now it has more than 50,000 hotel rooms and hundreds of entertainment options along the strip, albeit more wholesome than Las Vegas.

We arrived in Branson and ate at the motel restaurant, Whippersnappers and then headed for the ‘ducks’. We all received noisemakers called quackers and were encouraged to blow them whenever we saw another duck or whenever the mood hit us. We saw both of the dams which made Branson so famous, and got a ride on Lake Taneycomo. Each of the boys who wanted to, got to drive the duck and our driver Bubba entertained us with tall tales, Branson trivia and the standard stock of corny jokes. After that we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and change for the Baldknobber’s jamboree.

After dinner we rehearsed at the venue which seats almost 1100 persons. Their performance was for the pre-show prior to the main show. The boys hobnobbed with the performers backstage and got to see how a major production is put together with a professional stage hand, instrumentalists and comedians. Our show was well received with whoops and hollers and the stage manager told us we were head and shoulders above any that he had seen. Afterward, we sat through an extravaganza of country and gospel music as well as goofy comedy sketches reminiscent of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry. The boys actually seemed to enjoy the kitschy humor and the live music. After the show, we headed for the hotel and enjoyed what was billed as an ice cream social in the lobby. Well it was one guy with a scoop and two barrels of ice cream and a bottle of root beer, but the boys enjoyed it nonetheless.

Eric and Kellen were not going to be outdone by Henry. Many of the little ones followed their lead as well.

Henry tried -- SUCCESS!