Andrew Barnes has been participating in the choir with his brother, Henry, since he was 5 years old.
Andrew Barnes has been participating in the choir with his brother, Henry, since he was 5 years old.

The sound of joyful, saintly singing echoed through the halls at University Heights Community Center, where in the lower floor about 30 young boys sing religious songs, many in Latin, as a part of the Northwest Boychoir in association with Seattle’s Vocal Point! choir.

Music director Joseph Crnko accompanied the practice with piano and took many pauses to critique the singers. He reminded them the second “H” in Bethlehem is silent. Crnko knows he is teaching some of the most talented young singers on the West Coast, and said he that’s why he makes sure they keep up with their work.

“We don’t brag about it, but they are one of the top boy choirs in the country,” said Crnko. “So the standards are exceedingly high. And the pressure is on right now.”

The boys have spent hundreds of hours the past month exercising their vocal chords and memorizing sheet music in preparation for the 40th annual “A Festival of Lessons and Carols” concert.

Styled after the Christmas Eve observance at King’s College in Cambridge, England, “A Festival of Lessons and Carols” has become a holiday tradition for many families in the Puget Sound region. This classical performance consists of nine holiday readings, each followed by a traditional carol performed by the choir and another carol sung by the choir and audience.

Crnko has been directing at Vocal Point! for 34 years. Choir alumni will gather at the last performance to sing along with their past music teacher to commemorate the last 40 years of Christmas tradition.

“There is more pressure during practice than there is at the concert, which is usually more joyful,” Crnko said. “The thing about teaching young people is to push them to exceed what their potential is, then letting them relax the day of. And I think they really love it or they wouldn’t be here.”

The Northwest Boychoir has a handful of local Queen Anne and Magnolia students performing this year. A ladies choir from Vocal Point will also join the choir.

From Queen Anne there is Maxwell Rivera, 13; Dominic Giuzio, 13; Henry Bauck, 13; Fletcher Anderson, 18; Ellie Rice, 16; and Wynee Johnson, 12. From Magnolia there is Andrew Barnes, 12; Henry Barnes, 14; Nico Santa Lucia, 10; Sebastian Santa Lucia, 12; Addie Gill, 15, Lauren McDonough, 13; Annabella Megard, 14; and Mia Papadkis, 15.

Andrew Barnes has been participating in the choir with his brother, Henry, since he was 5 years old.

“My brother was in the choir, so I thought it was really cool,” Barnes said. “And I love singing, so I wanted to join.”

Barnes said he gets his singing talent from his mom, but his mom argues he gets it from his dad. Either way, the choir has been a way for the brothers to exceed and the yearly concert has become a holiday tradition.

“I just like being in a room with people who all want to achieve something great,” said Barnes. “And, like, have great expectations. I like to sing classical music.”

Barnes wants to audition for the adult Vocal Point! Seattle choir when he is older.

“They are neat participations because the audience participates,” Christy Barnes said. “It kind of gets you in the spirit without the commercialism.”

The choir performs eight productions in the span of 10 days. Many of the choir members work hard while also juggling school, sports and friends.

Nico and Sebastian Santa Lucia said they had to practice even harder this winter to be performance ready.

“We both started in second grade,” Sebastian said. “My favorite part is when we go on tour.”

“I haven’t been here long enough to go on tour, but I just like to sing,” Nico said.

The performances began on Dec. 14, with local shows near Queen Anne and Magnolia happening on Dec. 20.

Crnko sees the potential in his young choir to move on to larger performances with Vocal Point! Seattle and possibly college and professional choirs as they get older. Performing the yearly Christmas show is just one way to display the boys’ great talents.

“It’s amazing the potential these guys have,” Crnko said. “And I’ve watched, over the 30-some years, I’ve watched the organization’s art just get higher and higher. Which at some point makes (the boys’) job harder because we keep kicking the bar up for them. But it is tremendously fulfilling to see how good they become and see these kids get the knowledge of what it costs to be excellent and what is the joy of that. That’s my favorite thing.”