And All the Boys Sing Mahler Eight

While in Wichita last week, I mentioned my interest in digging up more information on the boys choir in which I participated when I was about ten years old to my mother.  So on Christmas morning we took a few minutes to go hunting through our family ephemera for whatever we could find.  Though we were hoping for a program, we managed to come up with a review of one of the performances from the Wichita Eagle, published on Sunday, April 13, 1986.  The review was written by Tony Brown.

Brown’s review reports that we performed Mahler Eight, the Romantic composer’s “Symphony of a Thousand,” though only about 500 players graced the stage of the Century II Concert Hall in Wichita that weekend.  The symphony was first performed in 1910, and the composer died in spring of 1911.  I remembered it being an anniversary performance, and based on the date it seems the occasion we were marking was the 75th anniversary of Mahler’s death, though the review leaves out that detail and I’ve learned to take my boyhood memory with a grain of salt.  In addition to the Boys Choir of the Wichita Public Schools, my group, we sang with the Wichita Symphony Chorus, the Wichita Chamber Chorale, and “college choruses from Wichita State, Southwestern and Tabor.”  Add all of us vocals to the players of the Wichita Symphony and apparently you get to the 500 number.

Overall, Brown minces no words, “the Century II Concert Hall stage was a wall of humanity that filled the auditorium with a vision of heaven itself,” and, “The performance Saturday night of this moving masterpiece by the Wichita Symphony served as the culmination of a season during which the orchestra has gradually become the best it can be.”  The review references a Faustian drama playing out in the music, and notes in particular the moment of salvation when “Offstage trumpets and trombones intoned the mighty ‘Veni, creator’ theme and the orchestra responded with a ‘Gloria!’, opening Mahler’s heaven to us all.”  He notes that “[Wichita Symphony Conductor Michael] Palmer and his charges seemed to pour as much into that single half hour as they have into the entire rest of the season.”  Brown concludes, “Daring, spectacular and stunning, the Mahler Eight is a fitting finale to the season.”

We performed twice, once the evening of Saturday, April 12, 1986, and then a matinee the next day.   At that time I was actually nine years old, about a month shy of my tenth birthday.  Unfortunately the review does not credit the woman I remember so distinctly, our boys choir conductor who so skillfully shaped our performance over many weeks of rehearsals.  I wish I knew her name.

I’m so happy to have filled in some gaps in my memory about that performance, which has always loomed large as something quite momentous that I participated in as a child.  I’m also grateful for my mother’s penchant for organization – it took us all of 10 minutes to pull this thirty year old review out from amongst the beautifully arranged boxes of family memories in the basement.

Thanks for reading.



  1. I’m wondering if the director was Marilyn Killian? Somehow that sounds familiar.

  2. Wow – that name sounds somewhat familiar, but I’m not sure. I’m quite amazed you would remember!

  3. Julie Libel · · Reply

    I will look again for that program. I cannot believe I do not have it somewhere. (I have been reading several sections of your blog to make sure I haven’t missed too many.)

  4. The review was really great to find even if the program has gone missing!

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