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Last year, a family friend from church suggested fourth-grader Chandler Quaile, an aspiring singer, try out for the prestigious Vienna Boys' Choir. His parents filled out a form online, and the choir asked for a video clip.
Chandler was called for an audition in Austria, but the Quaile family decided he couldn't miss school. So the choir asked him to come to one of its U.S. performances instead.
From his seat in a George Mason University concert hall, Chandler watched 25 boys in white uniforms sing, standing tall on stage. He marveled at their perfect pitch.
"There were just no mistakes," Chandler said.
His mom, Heather, wondered whether her wiggly boy would ever be able to stand that still.
After the concert, Chandler sang "O Holy Night" for one of the choirmasters.
The phone call came a few weeks later.
Chandler, 11, of Virginia Beach, had landed a spot in one of the world's most respected boys' choirs, one of only a handful of Americans ever to do so.
When it came to making a decision about whether her son would go, Heather Quaile said, there was no question. It was an amazing opportunity, she said. How could they turn it down?
So last summer, Chandler packed his bags for Vienna Boys' Choir summer camp, nearly 4,500 miles away in Austria, his first time away from home. Before Chandler could tour this fall, he had to learn a repertoire of about 40 songs in Dutch, French, German and English.
Chandler had started singing half his lifetime ago, when he was 6. His first performance was a Christmas concert, his first solo "Silent Night." He loved being in front of a crowd and the applause that followed.
"The ultimate reward is when the people enjoy the gift that you've been given," he said.
Last year at this time, Chandler attended Three Oaks Elementary. His mom made his lunch and packed his schoolbag every morning.
Now, he has roommates in an Austrian dorm and studies in a building called The Palace. He sends postcards to his parents and two younger brothers saying he loves and misses them.
The 500-year-old Vienna Boys' Choir features 100 boys ages 10 to 14, broken into four choirs. Each group tours one trimester a year, and the remaining six months are spent at boarding school in Vienna.
Chandler's choir, called Haydnchor after Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, just completed a tour of England, Scotland and the United States, 50 concerts in all.
The other singers are from Singapore, Croatia, Australia, Austria, Germany, Kazakhstan and Malaysia. To communicate, they speak mostly in German, a language Chandler started learning only a few months ago.
On the road, the boys woke early in hotels, boarded a bus and sometimes rode up to seven hours to get to a concert location. After a two-hour mandatory nap time, singers rehearsed, rested and then took the stage.
The schedule was so packed that Chandler sometimes couldn't call home for a week or more. When he got homesick, he flipped through a photo book his mom made him.
A family member tried to visit Chandler on tour every couple weeks. Heather Quaile and her middle son, Cody, 8, flew to Cambridge, England, to see the choir perform with the King's College Choir.
"Oh, my gosh. Is that my son?" Heather Quaile thought.
"That was just very, very, very impressive," she said.
A few weeks ago, when the choir performed in Richmond, she sat just a few feet away from the performers. Her son was so focused and methodical, standing tall like the others. It was her boy, but now he was different: trained and professional.
In January, Chandler starts boarding school, where all his classes will be in German. He'll learn to play guitar and how to fence.
For now, he's home in Virginia Beach for a few weeks, seeing family and catching up with friends. At church on Christmas Eve, he planned to sing "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" - this time, with two verses in German.
Margaret Matray, 757-222-5150, firstname.lastname@example.org
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