Visiting the Monaco Boys Choir at their home in the Cathedral
Last week I was invited by Pierre Debat, Director of The Monaco Boys Choir (Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco) for an exclusive visit. When I arrived in the majestic Cathedral, built in 1887, a welcoming attendant guided me through a secret passage, and left me at the base of a mysterious and narrow circular staircase that took me to the stronghold of the choir, a truly fascinating place.
I really enjoyed the entertaining and revealing private tour by Pierre Debat himself accompanied by his mother, his loyal collaborator together with his sister. When the young singers started to arrive they were so well educated and really charming, making me feel so welcome in their magnificent home. Before starting their singing practice they had some playful time, fooling around like boys do. It was great to see them amusing themselves, because these young singers work very hard and travel often while also attending regular school hours. There is great camaraderie among the children and teenagers, where the older ones are an example for the youngest, all coming as one in the choir erasing any age differences, under the firm but warm-hearted tutelage of their Director.
The minimum age to become part of the chorus is nine years old and to be recruited they must successfully pass a vocal, auditory and musical qualities examination. Once entrance is accepted parents must ensure their children’s participation in rehearsals, seminaries and concert tours, which are spread over the whole school year. They must attend two seminaries, one in Nice, France, and another one in Salzbourg, Austria, before performing in their first concerts. They usually stay until reach 15 years old and their voice changes.
The walls of their sacred compound are decorated with a myriad of photos and posters from all their performances around the world. Prince Rainier III used to call them “My little singing ambassadors, my little globetrotters.” Up to this date they have visited around 40 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South and North America.
The soprano, mezzo soprano, alto and contralto have a double mission: executing all of services in the Cathedral, and on the occasion of concert tours. The choir has been associated with performances of the Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Monte-Carlo. They also participate in celebration ceremonies like the 700 years of the Grimaldi Dynasty, UNESCO 30th General Conference held in Paris, and in prestigious venues such as the UN and Yankee Stadium, Kravis Center, Opera of Shangai and Buenos Aires, and many others. They sang at the wedding of Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene back in July 2011.
Their musical repertoire is varied, often reviving works consigned to oblivion. The musical direction and accompaniment are confided to Pierre Debat, who focuses on building an “equal voices” repertoire, allowing for the interpretation of works written for children or men voices, numerous pieces in Gregorian singing and also some French operettas in costume. Their many recordings are proof of their popularity worldwide.
Centuries old singing group
The Monaco Boys choir, regroup 25 boys from 9 to 15 years old, are part of the “Maîtrise de la Cathédrale de Monaco”, an institution created in 1904 and connected to the regular musical service of this prestigious architectural monument.
These “little singing ambassadors” as Prince Rainier III used to refer to them with affection, travel abroad extensively and are represented by concert agents who work in liaison with the diplomatic and consular corps and consulates within the Principality. Their activities is placed under the High patronage of HSH Prince Sovereign and funded by the Prince’s government.
Their beginnings could be traced to the 18th century during the reign of Prince Antoine 1st, where a vocal group with children’s voices had the mission to execute the liturgies at the Palatine Chapel, the ancestor of the future “Choir of the Monaco Cathedral.” In 1904, Prince Albert 1st and the Bishop of Monaco appointed Monseigneur Perruchot, renowned musician, to organize a choral group. Cannon Aurat succeeded Perruchot until 1945. Then came Father Henri Carol, organist and composer who over a quarter of a century would lead the Monegasque choir.
It was in 1973 that the Government summoned Philippe Debat, who was working in Paris, and entrusted him with continuing directing the choir that blossomed under his tutelage. It was Philippe Debat who started spreading to all countries the music of the Principality. His mission was specifically assigned to the children’s voices alone and this youthful choir christened in 1974 by HSH Prince Rainier II as “The Monaco Boys Choir” (Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco). The sovereign gave each of them a feature badge with His coat of arms that the boys wear of their hearts.
When Philippe Debat departed in 1999, his son and assistant Pierre Debat was appointed as Director of the choir of Monaco Cathedral, and of the Monaco Boys Choir. Continuing his father’s work, the Boys chorus has been flourishing under the guidance of Pierre Debat, inspired by the same passion of his parents.
Prince Rainier III was very closely involved with this group and Prince Albert II follows in his footsteps. In a letter Prince Rainier III sent to Pierre Debat, the sovereign wrote “Three things are impossible to acquire: the gift of poetry, generosity, a nightingale’s voice. This is what the Little Singers of Monaco give us with the talent and enthusiasm of their youth under the enlightened and benevolent conduct of Mr. Debat. One can only congratulate and thank them for these precious moments of contemplation and evasion.”
Do not miss the choir summer performance!
On Friday, June 17, 2016 at 20:30 the Little Singers of Monaco will perform at the Cathedral before leaving on their tour of Asia. Entrance is free.
Ninth tour of concerts in Asia:
- July 06-11 – Shanghai and Beijing in China
- July 11-18 – Seoul, Incheon, Daegu in South Korea
- July 18-26 – Nagasaki and Tokyo in Japan
“Those who wish to sing always find a song.” Proverb