“I get a lot of girlfriends by singing them love songs,” says 13-year-old Ben Vogel, perhaps wishfully, about his participation in the Ragazzi Boys Chorus.
Another teen, who suffered a loss in his family, has a much more serious take: “I felt completely destroyed, but then going into rehearsal, I cracked a smile and felt a lot better,” he says.
Ragazzi (“boys” in Italian) has brought music and more into the lives of some 2,000 young men since it was founded by music director Joyce Keil 25 years ago. The group — of 170 singers ages 7-18 from 86 schools in 26 Bay Area communities — marks its anniversary with a gala concert at Stanford University’s splendid new Bing Concert Hall on Sunday.
Conducted by Keil and several faculty members, the program, called “Sing It Forward: A Silver Celebration,” features the premiere of a commissioned work by Cris Grases and chorus favorites from the past years’ repertoire.
When Keil founded the organization, she learned that working with the boys together, without girls, made it “safe” — safe for them to explore their voices and emotions. She adds that thanks to Ragazzi, the boys have created lifelong friendships and developed other skills such as being disciplined and staying focused.
Chorus members have the same positive take.
Jack Pine, 9, says, “What I like about Ragazzi, is if you start singing something slow and mellow, you start feeling the same way. I also like it because once you learn to do it, you become obsessed with it and when other people hear how good you are, they say, ‘Wow!’ That makes me proud.”
Michael Sacco, 10, says “I learn something new every time I sing.”
Another 10-year-old, Ryan Brouchoud, agrees: “Ragazzi is a great experience for those who want to sing, be a gentleman and have fun.”
The “safe place” Keil mentioned is echoed by 14-year-old Benjamin Goya, who says, “Ragazzi is a safe haven that protects you from the calamities of the outside world.”
Henry Phipps, 13, calls it “a place where you can come together to be greater than any one person.”
Besides year-round music education, performance opportunities for the boys are abundant. They have performed with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Jose Opera and other organizations, adding to some 400 joint appearances through the years.
Groups of Ragazzi have toured in the U.S. and abroad to Canada (1990), Russia (1992), Eastern Europe (1995), Italy (1998), Japan (1999), the British Isles (2001), Spain and Portugal (2004), Australia and New Zealand (2007), British Colombia (2008), Quebec (2010) and Cuba (2011).
This summer, the group will tour South Korea.
Ragazzi 25th Anniversary Gala Concert