Touring French choir delights audience at Mount Airy church


LES PETITS Chanteurs d'Aix-en-Provence (The Little Singers from Aix-en-Provence) delivered a spellbinding performance Sunday at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Mount Airy. Nearly 300 people were treated to an evening of powerful voices and melodic harmonies of these very talented French boys and young men.

The choir is made up of about 40 French boys and young men ages 7 to 20 from the city of Aix-en-Provence, a vacation paradise in southeastern France and the birthplace of painter Paul Cezanne in 1839. The choir has sung with singers Charles Aznavour, Nna Mouskouri, Charles Trenet, Yvan Rebroff, Gilbert Becaud and Jacques Higelin.

Directed by Girard Mouton, the choir has been touring Canada and the East Coast for the past three weeks and ended its tour this week in Norfolk, Va. Two families from Mount Airy were host families to assist the boys with lodging during their two-day stay in Maryland.

Mouton began the boys choir in 1961 when he was a young classics teacher in Aix-en-Provence. Soon, boys from schools across the city began to join what would become known as "The Little Singers of Aix-en-Provence."

In 1967, the choir took part in the first International Congress in Rome.

Mouton, 57, devotes his free time to the direction and training of the choir.

To be a member of the choir, each boy is given a test and, after successful completion, is solemnly dressed with an alb or white choir-style robe and a wooden cross symbol of the first Christians, formed with the first letters of the word "Christ" in Greek.

Since 1969, a traditional summer tour has given the choir the opportunity to travel over the world. It has performed in England, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and the United States, including California, Louisiana, New York, Washington and this year the East Coast. Because it performs for free, the choir depends on donations and the sale of programs, compact discs, tapes and videotapes to offset travel and lodging expenses.

The choir will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year. In France, it often performs on television and is hired by professional singers to record backup vocals. It has released 14 albums, and its most recent recordings are available for purchase at its concerts. It also has supported the Red Cross and other telethon and charity organizations.

The first part of the concert is sacred music, when choir members wear the alb and cross. For the second part, featuring secular and more modern music, the boys dress in trousers and yellow shirts with an Aix-en-Provence escutcheon, or coat-of-arms.

The concert repertoire includes religious and classical music ranging from Handel's "Messiah" to songs such as "Let It Be" or musical show tunes.

One number was a rousing rendition of "I Will Follow Him" from the movie, "Sister Act." The audience gave a standing ovation after the choir performed "Hello, Dolly!" The choir invited the audience to learn a French song and to join it in singing "America the Beautiful." The concert concluded with a powerful performance of the French national anthem.

Fire queen crowned

Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department crowned Wendy Jean-Bart as its new fire prevention queen at the carnival grounds Monday evening.

Wendy, a 16-year-old Linganore High School graduate, attends the College of the Holy Cross.

A political science major, she plans to run for a student office and hopes to become a lawyer. Her interests include soccer and track.

As fire prevention queen, she will travel to area schools and child care centers to educate children about the importance of fire safety and prevention, and represent Mount Airy in events and parades.

Wendy received a tiara, an embroidered sash and $100.

First runner-up Carly Clayton, 16, attends South Carroll High School. After graduation she plans to enlist in the Navy and train for crash and rescue. She also intends to join Mount Airy's Junior Fire Department and feels "the contest is a good place to start getting involved in fire and rescue." Carly received a sash and $75 in the contest.

Second runner-up Vicki Mathers, who received $50, is a South Carroll High School student who enjoyed the experience of the fire prevention contest. Mathers, 16, aspires to be an FBI agent. "I think it's just sounds so interesting and fun," she said.

The previous day involved contest interviews and answering two questions about fire safety and prevention.

Mount Airy's 1999 queen, Sarah Barnard, gave a farewell speech and helped present the winners with sashes and prizes. "I can't believe it's been a year already," said Sarah.

She thanked the Mount Airy community, Mount Airy Fire Department and Fire Prevention Coordinator Debbie Gartrell-Kemp for their support in the past year. Before the judges made their final decision, each contestant randomly chose one of 10 questions that they had been studying during the past week.

After answering the question, contestants were to summarize what fire prevention meant to them.

Wendy's question concerned the effects of carbon monoxide on the human body.

Concerning fire prevention, she said, "Fire prevention means reaching into the community to teach them basics of fire prevention and making a positive difference in the lives of community members."

Donna Abel's Southwest Neighbors column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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