Christmas Eve service featuring the St. Thomas Boys Choir is a special experience. This is the second time we’ve spent Christmas in Leipzig to hear the choir, which has been in existence for over 800 years. The choir started in 1212 and J.S. Bach was the choir director here at the St. Thomas Church from 1723-1750. The rich tradition of hearing these young voices performing continues.
In the 21st century, the whole idea of a regimented boys choir seems anachronistic. But, somewhat like joining a prestigious military academy, the attraction of becoming a Thomaner, as choir members are called, is stronger than just being a regular kid in school.
There are currently 92 members of the choir. They range in age from 9 to 18 and are recruited from all over Germany. During the academic year, they live at a boarding school in Leipzig. Their days begin at 6am and include several hours of choir practice as well as individual training and regular coursework. The boys live in groups of 10 called Stuben. Each boy has a locker, a bed and a table. There are minimal furnishings and no TV or computers are allowed in the Stuben. Restrooms and showers are communal. Besides a gym, fitness room, rehearsal hall, library (with computers and internet access), infirmary and TV room, there is a dining hall where all boys have their three meals a day. The choir performs three times a week at the St. Thomas Church as well as touring around the world. Their school fees are mostly all paid by the state.
While their life may seem rigorous, the result is the opportunity to create beautiful music, to see the world and to always be known as a Thomaner. We chatted with a lady sitting next to us at the church who proudly told us that her deceased husband had been a Thomaner. We could tell that the choir essentially defines Leipzig and has been its anchor over the centuries. Two world wars and 45 years of communism could not erase the choir. There’s something about a tradition like this that helps us feel more secure in an increasingly insecure world.