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Dan Earl stood at the front of the Concert Hall without a word, in front of 390 male students from 16 area high schools. Within minutes, the boys were following Earl’s lead – hissing, laughing, making raspberry sounds and clapping, warming up their vocal chords and focusing their attention for a morning of choral interaction with other students from around the Valley.

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Dan Earl leads male choir singers from middle and high schools.

The annual “Real Men Sing!” festival last week brought more than 700 middle and high school male choir students from all over Central California to the Fresno State to join together in song. Retired Santa Rosa music teacher  and clinician Dan Earl came down for the two-day festival to work with the students. 

Cari Earnhart, Fresno State’s director of choral activities, explained how “Real Men Sing!” got started at Fresno State 15 years ago. As boys reach middle and high school, many drop out of their school choir programs, as singing becomes viewed as less cool.

“Real Men Sing! is a way to show them that it’s OK to sing and enjoy choir,” Earnhart said.

Participating schools got copies of the selected songs weeks before coming to campus. The middle schoolers did “Ching a Ring Chaw,” a song from the early days of the minstrel tradition, and “Pie Jesu,” a Latin piece. High-school students performed “Marching to Pretoria,” a song that was sung by British soldiers in South Africa, and “Si Iniquitates Observaveris,” another Latin piece.

“The hardest aspect of any high school or middle school choral program is the recruitment and retention of male singers,” said Daniel Bishop, visual and performing arts administrator for Clovis Unified and a longtime choral instructor. “Real Men Sing! was created to be a fun, high energy, highly collaborative event that brings young men from many different schools, various levels of artistry and many aspects of diversity together to share the art of singing and making quality music.”

On the day of their respective festivals, students came together in the morning for a welcome and introduction to Earl. Then they broke up into smaller groups by their musical section to rehearse their individual parts. Later, they returned to the Concert Hall for a rehearsal, then a final concert, featuring a performance by the Men of Fresno State Concert Choir and then their performance of the pieces they spent the day practicing.

“I was very proud to see my son, who is in his first year of choir at Kastner Middle School, being able to sing in the Concert Hall of Fresno State,” said parent Becky Brown, who is the associate director of development for the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. “It was a wonderful opportunity and huge boost to his self-confidence.”

Earl become very emotional as he wrapped up his final remarks at the end of Friday’s concert, talking passionately about the importance of musical programs and arts educations in school curriculum.

Next month, the Fresno State Choral Department will host 3,000 area high school students at the three-day Fresno State Invitational Choral Festival Oct. 19-21, featuring internationally renowned clinician Dr. Jerry McCoy (choral.music.unt.edu/faculty/jmccoy).

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles