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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Die Thomaner

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Starts February 16

Original language: German

die thomanerDirectors and producers Paul Smaczny and Günter Atteln spent one whole year following the lives of 90 boys (now 120 boys) aged 10 to 18 in a boarding school in Leipzig. After passing entrance exams which test primarily musical ability, these boys are members of the Thomanerchor (choir). They live together in a new dormitory, recently constructed to provide more modern housing, e.g., just two boys to a room, instead of 20 in bunk beds. They attend the Thomas Gymnasium, grades 5-12, across the street. Afternoons they diligently attend choir practice, and learn a classical repertoire heavily dominated by music from Johann Sebastian Bach – a new cantata every week. On weekends and holidays they perform in the Thomas Church in Leipzig. Although they are seeped in a religious atmosphere half the boys come from non-religious families.

The choir will celebrate its 800th anniversary in March 2012, the oldest boys’ choir in the world. Originally the boys came into the Thomas Church (built 1212-1222) to sing for their supper and learn in the monastery. Bach was the cantor (choir director) in this church for 27 years and is buried here.

Smaczny and Atteln were especially interested in how these boys from today’s “Gameboy generation” manage in an antiquated, all-boy system of lesson plans, music practice, homework, dorm rules, church-going and uniforms, with practically no independent free time.

The documentary is excellent and especially interesting for anyone who loves classical music, is interested in this special project in Leipzig, or who is involved in the education of young people. They talk about their desire to be part of this system, their hopes, and their future after graduation. They go on tours around the world, e.g., the U.S. and Japan, or, in this film, to Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

Although an excellent film, I would have liked to have learned more about the history, since this is a special year, and about the funding. Also, Georg Christoph Biller, the present cantor since 1992 (and the 16th since Bach) as well as an alumnus of the Thomanerchor (1965-1974) is charismatic and informative, but after a time he became repetitious. I would have been interested in interviews with boys who threw in the towel and left this exclusive music school for whatever reason.

In spite of those small suggestions, I definitely recommend the film for the professional presentations of Bach, Schumann, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn Bartholy – you name it. I’ll bet you will immediately go out and buy a CD of their presentation. I did. 

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