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American Boychoir School to Close, Ending 80-Year History

The American Boychoir School, whose choir has performed with major orchestras and pop stars including Beyoncé, is closing its doors after 80 years as declining enrollment hampered its financial recovery.

In a statement posted Tuesday on its website, Rob D’Avanzo, chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, said enrollment for the coming year fell unexpectedly, leaving the school with 19 to 21 students to start the semester in three weeks.

“We have worked diligently to try to locate additional working capital from our donor base, and we have had some limited success,” he said in the statement.  “When we take a look at the numbers, however, it was clear that ABS does not have enough working capital to get through the fall semester.”

The school has also canceled its scheduled concert performances.  The small number of remaining students “is at best the bare minimum for us to be able to present a professional choir that is up to our standards,” D’Avanzo wrote.

Officials from the Hopewell, New Jersey-based American Boychoir did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Founded in 1937 in Columbus, Ohio as the Columbus Boychoir, the school moved to Princeton in 1950 and in 1980 changed its name to the American Boychoir.  The Boychoir has performed with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra and with soloists and musicians ranging from soprano Jessye Norman, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and cellist Yo-Yo Ma to pop stars Sir Paul McCartney and Beyoncé, who sang with the choir at the 77th annual Academy Awards in 2005.

Facing financial struggles, the school sold its Albemarle campus in Princeton in 2012 and relocated to the newly created Princeton Center for Arts and Education in nearby Plainsboro. At the time, the Boychoir had hoped the center, which also housed several other schools, would provide a creative center and expand artistic and performance opportunities.  By April 2015, the school’s financial difficulties forced it to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  It left the center and moved its classes and offices to the Rambling Pines Summer Camp in Hopewell, relying on local families to house out-of-town students. 

The school also had been plagued by accusations of sexual abuse alleged to have taken place in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, in some cases leading to financial settlements with victims.

In June 2016, the school received court approval for its reorganization plan, and it emerged from bankruptcy protection later that Fall.

The American Boychoir’s annual Christmas concerts were a popular tradition in the Princeton area, and the choir was a frequent partner of the major orchestras in the region. In recent years, it performed Gustav Holst’s The Planets with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand,” with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Boychoir also hosted a live taping of From the Top, an NPR program that features young artists, in May 2013 and served as the inspiration for the 2014 movie Boychoir​, starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates and Debra Winger.  Students from the Boychoir and Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Litton-Lodal Music Director of the Boychoir, appeared and performed in the film. 

The American Boychoir performs with Rob Kapilow at a live WWFM radio broadcast of What Makes it Great in December 2016 .

Had the school opened for this school year, D’Avanzo said, it would have likely had to close within three months based on current enrollment and expected cash flow.  “We regret the result for our students and for our staff, and for our long history as an American music institution,” he wrote.  “After all of our financial struggles over the past several years and a successful year of operations in 2016-2017, we are stunned that our enrollment was not what we had anticipated it would be and that we do not have confidence that we have the resources to continue.”

The American Boychoir’s announcement comes as the Princeton cultural community braces for news of the fate of Westminster Choir College, which has been put on the sales block by Rider University.  In March, the university said its preference is to sell Westminster to a buyer interested in preserving the choir college’s operations, but that it would consider selling just the land and closing down Westminster’s operations if that was the most viable option.

(Correction 8/19: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date of the What Makes it Great performance. That concert was held in December 2016, not November.)

Rachel Katz is the host of A Tempo which airs Saturdays at 7 pm.