The long-established Kreuzkirche choir resembles an extended family for many of the young choristers, including three brothers from Dresden.

The singing sounds a little reedy. Choirmaster Roderich Kreile sits at the piano and listens carefully. “Let’s try that again!” he says, and the third and fourth year students of the Dresden Kreuzkirche choir repeat “Majestatis, majestatis, gloriae tuae”. Eight-year-old Wilhelm Reiche is one of them. He sits at the front on the right, staring intently at his score. He and his classmates are used to the daily rehearsals, practice and repetition. They all dream of travelling the world one day with the choir. America, Asia – who knows? But there’s no time for daydreaming right now. “Again, please!”

Footballers and mutants

Same place, an hour later. Wilhelm’s brother Leopold is now sitting in the rehearsal hall. The room is filled with “Majestatis, majestatis” from Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum. Roderich Kreile smiles. These students are a head taller and two years older – and what a difference it makes! This group of boys has moved a little closer to their dreams; they have already performed on stage in their dark blue choir suits and their first concert tours are behind them. “I’d love to go to Japan,” says Leopold Reiche after the rehearsal. His older brother Johann – also a Kreuzkirche chorister – has already been there twice. Johann is in year nine and is not allowed to sing at the moment. “I’m a mutant,” he says, and laughs because he knows how strange that sounds to outsiders. He’s waiting for his voice to break, a change known as mutation, and will then join the men’s choir. Until that happens, he has more time for his hobbies. These include music, of course, especially rap and hip-hop, but his other main passion is football. Choirmaster Kreile recalls that some time ago, Johann was considering becoming a footballer instead of continuing to sing in the choir.

800-year-old choir stays in tune with the times

Today, Johann seems content with his decision to remain in the choir and says “it feels a bit like being part of a family”. This feeling of community is reinforced by the long-established traditions of the 800-year-old choir and also by the requirement for all boys to live in the school’s Alumnat residence for a year. Although around a third of the choristers usually live at home with their parents, they have to spend their fourth school year at the choir’s boarding school. Wilhelm will move into the building in the next school year. He’s not scared at the prospect, but admits it will be a big change, having heard his brothers’ stories from their time in the Alumnat. Peter Kopp, who along with the choirmaster is responsible for the boys’ musical education, knows how crucial the boarding year is. “It creates a strong bond between the boys. A sense of togetherness is very important for the choir,” he says. Kopp was a Kreuzkirche chorister himself until 1985 and is not at all concerned that the choir might one day be out of step with the times. “Every nine years, we have a completely different set of choristers,” he explains. That serves to energise and revitalise the choir, keeping it current despite its traditional repertoire. Meanwhile, the three Reiche brothers have disappeared outside to play football. In two years’ time, they might all appear on the concert stage together somewhere in the world.