How Many Easters Remain for This Century-Old Boys’ Choir School?

At the St. Thomas Choir School in Manhattan the other morning, more than two dozen boys, dressed in matching white polo shirts and gray pants, gathered in a gymnasium to rehearse hymns for Holy Week services, as their predecessors have for more than a century.

When Jeremy Filsell, the church’s organist and director of music, asked the boys for more precision when they sang the line about “the voice of an angel calling out” from “Sive Vigilem” by the Renaissance composer William Mundy, the boys tried again, their high, clear voices ringing out in Latin.

“Lovely!” he said. “That’s it!”

For 105 years, the St. Thomas Choir School has been something of an anomaly: a residential school that steeps boys in centuries-old choral traditions that are more generally associated with the great English cathedral towns than they are with Midtown Manhattan. The boys, between the ages of 8 and 14, live at the school and sing five services a week at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue.

Now St. Thomas, an Episcopal church that is venerated for its music program, is considering closing the choir school, one of only a few remaining boarding schools for young choristers in the world. The church said that its endowment, annual fund-raising and tuition fees were no longer sufficient to cover the roughly $4 million a year it costs to operate the school — which accounts for about 29 percent of the church’s $14 million budget.

The church will decide by October whether it will keep the school open beyond June 2025.

The church will decide by October whether it will keep the school open beyond June 2025.Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

The Rev. Canon Carl F. Turner, the church’s rector, said that St. Thomas had run into trouble in part because of the misperception that it had ample resources, which has hurt fund-raising. The church, built from limestone in the French High Gothic style, stands 95 feet tall in the shadow of skyscrapers along Fifth Avenue, in one of New York’s most elegant neighborhoods.

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