A conversation with Aultman on the Mississippi Boychoir

The Mississippi Boychoir has 27 members for its 25th season. Lanise Aultman has been involved with the Mississippi Boychoir for the past 15 years, serving in various capacities from parent volunteer to president of the board. Aultman recently spoke with Sun staff writer Nikki Rowell about the Mississippi Boychoir and their upcoming performances. 

What interested you in getting involved with the Mississippi Boychoir?

“My older son, who is now a senior in college, joined the choir when he was eight years old. So, that first year, I just sat back and watched. The more I got to know about the choir, the more I wanted to get involved as a parent. That next year, I was elected as a parent representative for the choir, which put me on the board. I’ve become more active over the years, and I was board president for three years until my full-term was up. Since then, I have volunteered in our office as administrator.”

When did the Mississippi Boychoir get started?

“This is our 25th season, so it was founded in 1995 by Margaret Thomas in Columbus, Mississippi. Her husband was a Methodist minister and she was a retired school teacher. They went and saw the Tuscaloosa Boychoir, and he looked over at her and said, ‘Margaret, you could do that.’ And the rest is history. She started it there in Columbus with a division in Tupelo also. Then, her husband retired, and they moved back to Hattiesburg. So, the main division moved to Hattiesburg. I think, in 2000, she started the Jackson division. She stayed with the choir for 15 years and then retired. So, we have continued in Jackson. Now, we only have a division in Jackson and Vicksburg.”

What is the mission of the organization?

“We have a multi-faceted mission to identify young boys with a talent for singing to train them to sing, to provide them with the opportunity to sing inside and outside the state, to give them some leadership skills, to work with others that may or may not be like themselves, with the end goal of them being productive, good citizens who are active in their communities as adults.”

How many boys participate?

“This year, we have 27 choir members, 22 of which are in our concert choir. We have five in our training choir.”

What ages can join the choir?

“Our official ages are from six to 18. Our youngest this year is seven, and our oldest is 16.”

How does the group help these young men continue to develop their talent?

“They come together and practice once a week. The Vicksburg division practices in Vicksburg on Mondays. The Jackson division practices in Jackson on Tuesdays. Then, they come together once a month and practice together. It’s a pretty intensive rehearsal, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Twice a year, we have a retreat at Camp Wesley Pines. So, it’s a Friday, Saturday and Sunday retreat where the boys learn to function as a cohesive group.”

As a parent involved with the choir, how does this program benefit the children who are part of it?

“My experience may be a bit different as I homeschool my kids. But it gives them the opportunity to interact with others who they might not have otherwise met. We pride ourselves on our diversity. It is an opportunity for them to develop strong relationships with people he would not necessarily have met. Developing that artistic ability is very important too.

So, the choir was invited to the Texas International Choral Festival. Tell me about that.

“This last year, at our retreat in September, the director of the North Metroplex Children’s Chorus invited our choir to be the prelude choir for the Texas International Choral Festival, which will be this July. It is a festival that is held in Grapevine, Texas. As the invited prelude choir, we will sing our own set of music for the first 25 minutes or so of concert. Then, the mass choir, everyone involved in the festival, will sing as a mass choir. But it’s a huge honor. We are the only choir that will sing by ourselves, and we were invited to do that.”

To get all of the boys to the festival, how far are you all from your fundraising goal?

“We are probably one third of the way there. About 40 percent of our boys are on tuition assistance of some sort. Those boys usually have the least network of opportunity for them to raise money. The boys who would not ordinarily be able to travel, we want those boys to go.

The cost per boy to go is $850. So, we need all of our boys to go. Some kids are fundraising. The choir as a whole is fundraising. But then, there are some who really want to go, but have no vision of how to get there. And those are the ones who it would mean the most to. A couple of years ago, it was the first time one of the boys had seen the Mississippi River. It’s important. Being selected hits every one of the points of our mission, to give boys the opportunity to do something outside of what they could even imagine.”

How many people are on the staff?

“We have our artistic director Katherine Hoitt and assistant artistic director Caryn Womack. We have two accompanists, Rosanne Smith and Jennifer Tillotson.”

How many performances does the choir do each year?

“About 10 total each year.”

Where does funding for the boychoir come from?

“Donations from individuals and corporations. We also apply for grants. Our major funder is the Mississippi Arts Commission.”

For those who wish to donate, how would they go about doing so?

“They can do that via our website or our Facebook. Or they can mail us a check or come to a concert.”

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