The PBA Blog

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On Saturday, October 29, PBA hosted its first Fall Carnival. The goals of this event were many: to increase our visibility in our neighborhood, to connect with both established and new members of the PBA community, to showcase the great work our afterschool and day school choirs have been doing this fall, to allow our 8th graders to raise money for their end-of-year trip and class gift, and – of course – to have an enormous amount of PBA-style fun.

Photo Credit: Amy Jensen

At 9 am, the campus opened to the public with games such as Wheel of Fortune, Ring Toss, Plinko, Penny Toss, and Giant Jenga. Participants were also welcome to create their own Veggie Pumpkin and compete for prizes in categories like Funniest. Scariest, Best Celebrity Lookalike, and Best Overall. At the Doughnut-on-a-String station, participants could pay for the sticky experience of eating a doughnut off a string (hands-free, of course), or they could enter in competitive mode and race their friends to the finish. All games distributed prize tickets to the winners, which could be redeemed at the Prize table.

Photo credit: Amy Jensen

At 10:00, the Haunted Escape Room opened. This attraction was the work of our middle school cohort, who spent several weeks planning and constructing an escape room that was loosely inspired by S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which they are studying in literature class. They transformed three of our classrooms nearly beyond recognition (see the photo below!), truly showcasing their creativity, teamwork, acting, and design skills.

Photo Credit: Bethany Edstrom

By noon, our campus was full of guests. Alumnus and current Chorus Manager and Concert Manager manned the grill, feeding the crowds hamburgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs. A combined choir made up of our Minstrels, Intermezzi, and Cantori ensembles gave a delightful fall-themed concert at noon, and the Day School and High School Troubadors performed at 1:15. The day ended with a few more rounds of the Haunted Escape Room – some of our students and guests couldn’t stop clamoring for one more visit!

Photo credit: Amy Jensen

When I started teaching at PBA, I remember being told that PBA is “better known in Berlin than in Berkeley.” This is an obvious and justified complement to the incredible impressions our choir makes when we tour overseas, and we’re right to feel proud of our reputation abroad. But Berkeley deserves to know our name too – not to mention our neighbors right here in Oakland, and throughout the rest of the Bay Area.

Photo credit: Michael McNeil

Did you attend the Fall Carnival? Were you impressed by our boys’ creativity, their fun-loving spirit, their stage presence, their beautiful voices? Were you struck by the warmth of our community of children, families, teachers, and music lovers from many backgrounds? If so, please talk about us! We are always looking to forge new connections and grow our school and choirs. Our aim is to be the WORST-kept secret in the East Bay – will you help us meet that goal?

Before the pandemic, it was common to see our day school community out and about, exploring the Bay Area on field trips, participating in occasional weekday concerts and rehearsals offsite, heading to the Mills College pool for our weekly swimming unit in PE, or – a favorite – trooping down to Piedmont Avenue for a brunch of tasty crepes and a math lesson in estimating costs, splitting bills, and calculating tips. Slowly but steadily, off-campus adventures are becoming part of our routine again, and we couldn’t be happier.

Photo Credit: Carmen Martinez

On Friday, October 21, we performed our first school visit concert since the fall of 2019. After routine morning classes and lunchtime, our boys changed into their “slip shot” uniforms – a simple performance outfit consisting of a crisp new blue polo embroidered with the PBA logo, black dress slacks, shoes, and socks, and a black belt. Next they filled their water bottles, grabbed their music bags, loaded our portable keyboard, extension cord, and other supplies into Mr. Brown’s car, and traveled to Joaquin Miller Elementary School to perform for their third, fourth, and fifth grade classes.

Photo Credit: Bethany Edstrom

Although we had to put them on hiatus during the pandemic, school visits have long been an essential part of our program. Frequent short, local concerts give all of our students – from the youngest members of the training choir to the most experienced varsity countertenors – valuable performance experience with minimal disruption to other parts of our program. Observers who see our students transform from a mob of basketball-crazed fiends into a combed, polished arc of choristers calmly warming up their voices often ask us how we teach them to make such quick transitions, and the answer is that we give them frequent opportunities to practice. In addition, every student on a school visit has a gig job to do – usually an item to carry and keep track of while we travel to and from our destination. Attending to these responsibilities, along with remembering their water bottles and music bags and caring for their uniforms, gives the students valuable practice for our summer tours.

Photo Credit: Bethany Edstrom

In addition, school visits provide valuable outreach for PBA. Our afterschool choirs are an enormously important part of our program; PBA thrives when Prelude, Minstrels, Intermezzi, Cantori, and Sorella are bursting at the seams. At each school visit, we ask the principal for permission to hand out postcards to the children in the audience, and it’s common for some of these students to enroll in our afterschool choirs. With our overall enrollment still rebounding post-pandemic, school visits are more vital than ever as a way to make sure our name and our boys’ beautiful voices are known in our community.

Photo Credit: Carmen Martinez

On Monday, October 24, we headed out once again, this time to see the Diego Rivera’s America exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Faculty members Carmen Martinez, Joe Imwalle, and I chaperoned the students via BART. We practiced traveling in an organized double line, navigating the BART stations, using Clipper cards, and keeping track of our belongings on the train. Our head boy, Kai, and our two newly-appointed lead boys, Dresden and Enosh, showed amazing leadership skills keeping the group together and assisting the faculty at every stage of the process. When we arrived in the city, we ate a picnic lunch at Yerba Buena Gardens and then played in the Moscone Playground before heading to the museum for our noon reservation. In the museum, many of the students commented on the thoughtful, troubled faces of the human figures in Rivera’s paintings, as well as on the juxtaposition of what seemed like incongruous images: a smiling bride carrying a skull, a wedding ring on the end of a dagger, an Aztec sacrifice being carried out in the backdrop of a modern industrial scene. “What does it mean to call Rivera a social artist?” Ms. Martinez asked the students after we exited the exhibit. “Can art be political? Can it change the way people think and act? What do you think Rivera wanted to inspire people to do?”

Photo Credit: Bethany Edstrom

Good questions. At PBA, moving back and forth between stillness and movement – the stillness of attentive listening, of choir performance, of lingering with a book or writing assignment in counterpoint to the movement of recess and P.E. games, of carrying and lifting and walking all together, of collaborating and building and learning actively together – is a regular part of our overall sense of balance. These two back-to-back school days of travel and movement felt like a natural counterpoint to the stillness of distance learning that’s still so fresh in many of our minds. As artists and as people, we need both. We need time for contemplation and peace, but the natural result of this introspection will often be a call to action. Our students are remarkably aware of the forces at work in the world, of the way money and power and privilege and hard work and countless other forces shape our lives. And for me, one of the sweetest parts of our two days on the road was the hour after we returned, when we recovered in the courtyard from our walk back to school, talking about Rivera’s paintings and discussing Ms. Martinez’s questions as we sipped from our water bottles and petted our favorite neighborhood cat, Tina, enjoying some quiet moments before theory class began.

As one who had heard just the first and final movements of Carmina Burana, it was a surprise and delight to hear most of the whole piece at UC Berkeley on April 30, 2022. To summarize the whole immersion in two words: crystalline bombast. There were 150 voices, some, from Pacific Boychoir Academy, as young as eight! How so many beautiful living instruments could be assembled, rehearsed, etc., most on overtaxed schedules, is extraordinary. Most of the throng must have had Tiger Moms, could read music in their sleep, and learned very quickly. Still, it was all Latin, the composer was Orff, and all sang with Covid masks in place! The piece ripped the tears out of people’s eyes from its first notes, and still does, upon repeat viewing of its seismic video recording available at:

Click first image to see photo album.

Congratulations to our newest Choral Scholar, Brenn Farrell! Due to his concerted efforts over many years, Brenn has finished his second gray card, completing PBA’s theory curriculum! Over PBA’s nearly 25-year history, Brenn is only the 5th chorister to achieve this accomplishment. Brenn joined PBA at age seven as a member of the Minstrel Choir, and began attending the Choir School in fifth grade. He is currently in eighth grade, and is the PBA Head Boy. Finishing all of the theory cards is no small feat. Brenn had to show mastery of tonal harmony as well as professional level musicianship skills. Brenn spent significant time practicing conducting, writing a 100-measure idiomatic piano piece, studying languages, analyzing music, and more. Congratulations to Brenn for his hard work.



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