The Better Land - Volume Six
Great Boy Sopranos - Recorded 1912 - 1970

Stephen Beet celebrates the boy sopranos of the early part of the 20th century

Click here for track listings from the CD in detail

"I hear thee speak of a better land...
Thou call'st its children a happy band...
Tell me where is that radiant shore...
Shall we not seek it and weep no more?"


Boy sopranos and trebles, as exemplified in the excellent The Better Land series of albums, constitute a national treasure which we are in danger of losing.  If we are not to throw away this treasure -- if we are to preserve it, and keep it as a living, singing tradition for future generations to appreciate and enjoy -- then we must become a chorus behind the voice of Stephen R. Beet. The nation already owes him an enormous debt of gratitude for what he has achieved, almost single-handedly, over the past two decades. This, the sixth of The Better Land albums, builds further upon that achievement and is perhaps the most 'broad church' of the albums to date. It features tracks by no less than ten 'newcomers' to the series, and the excellent recordings by Master Thomas Criddle, whose strikingly good photograph adorns the front of this booklet. Stephen R. Beet has woken us up to a realisation of what we, as a nation, are on the brink of losing. I defy anyone to listen to such erstwhile young Masters of their art as Ernest Lough, Billy Neely and Denis Wright (whose eponymous recording of The Better Land reverberates throughout the series), and tell me that they are somehow wrong or irrelevant; or that voices such as that of Harry Sever from Winchester College or  young Parisian Louis-Alexander Désiré -- two of the foremost modern exponents of bel canto 'head tone' -- are not worth having.  Indeed, the boys featured on The Better Land series of albums are (if I may borrow the words of the late Dr. George Thalben-Ball) voices within "a musical offering of supreme worth."

Edward Reid Power,
Rectory Press.




The voice of Master Thomas Criddle calls us back to a Better Land -- to a time when boy sopranos were trained in the art of bel canto, and the regrettable 'political correctness' of today was unheard of. These albums, which were begun in 1999, demonstrate that the singing methods taught up until the mid-to-late twentieth century were no less than true bel canto handed down from generation to generation, and also call for a return to that Better Land.

The lives of the boys featured on The Better Land series of CD albums are testament to a lost art, and their stories are related in detail in the book of the same name which accompanies the series.

It has not been my purpose to attack those good people who are trying bravely to maintain in our cathedrals the tradition of boy choristers singing the services as they have done every day since the restoration of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662 -- their task is hard enough -- but, rather, to demonstrate that what they are teaching might better be reflected by using more time-honoured methods.

Reviews received by the series have begun to question this new orthodoxy and to sway opinion back towards the teaching of head tone. It is nothing short of astonishing that ignorance of correct technique is so prevalent amongst the 'experts' now teaching our cathedral choristers; a circumstance exemplified by the fact that, within 'their' circles, they subscribe to the nonsensical notion that boys featured on The Better Land series of albums were singing 'falsetto'.  Efforts are being made by feminist bodies and individuals to eliminate boys altogether from what they, in their arrogance, consider to be 'elitist' choirs; and to replace them with girls and women. It is now being claimed that a boy's masculinity is compromised if he sings in a high voice; or that, if he sings head tone or bel canto, he is singing like a woman - or falsetto!  This claim is so ludicrous as to beggar belief. Yet, so pernicious has 'political correctness' become, and so much has it poisoned every aspect of British society, that even those who ought to know better are in its thrall.

It is not my intention to advance an academic riposte. Suffice to say, I do not accept the view of the advocates of the Cooksey Report, who would consign every thirteen-year-old boy to the back row to sing tenor. Nor do we accept the claim that voices are breaking earlier; these claims, of course, provide a convenient excuse for not training boys at all. It is interesting to note that researchers, whose experience has hitherto been confined to the chesty tones of today's English choirboys, have found themselves astounded by the ethereal quality of the singing of Louis Alexander Désiré. And it is significant -- is it not? -- that the quality of the voice of Désiré, one of today's top boy sopranos and a leading exponent of the bel canto method, harks back to the days of Derek Barsham, Billy Neely and Thomas Criddle.


Stephen R Beet

Thiat, France.



This selection has perhaps been the most difficult of the series, so great has been the response to our appeal for suitable material.  As mentioned by my publisher, no fewer than ten 'new boys'  are featured on this Album -- an achievement in itself -- and would that it were possible to acquaint you with details of every artiste featured. But, unfortunately, there is a dearth of information on boys such as Mansel Squire, Desmond Casey, Frank Bird and John Gwilym Griffith.  Other newcomers are better documented:  Robin Fairhurst and Richard Bonsall need no introduction, and Master Robert Waddell -- an old friend and 'rival' of Billy Neely -- is delighted to have been included; and we are delighted to include him!  

     The majority of our boys featured were 'professional' artistes, making records for the major companies, but we are able to include remarkable recordings made by Vernon Carter and Chris Robins. Vernon represents the many cathedral choristers whose voices have been lost forever. It is fortuitous that his beautiful 'cathedral tones' were captured by his father, Frederick, on his Ferrograph. What an example to set before today's 'enlightened' choir trainers! Chris Robins' voice sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday: it is almost as though he were standing in the room with us!  He represents those thousands of boy sopranos who sang in countless choirs and entered for the many music festivals up and down the country -- boys whose voices have been lost forever -- while Chris's voice remains, preserved for our education and delight!

No part of this article may be reproduced without permission from the author

Stephen Beet can be contacted via e mail:

I hear thee speak of a Better Land

Copyright © 2007 Stephen R Beet

 The Better Land | Volume Six Track List | Ordering Information

Copyright © 2007 Stephen R. Beet

Copyright © 2007
This page was last modified on 03 April 2014