By Linda Scherer
Even though it was 30 years ago, Winsted resident Joe Caouette remembers his singing audition for the famous Land of Lakes Choirboys.
It was his mom who had seen the advertisement for an all boys’ choir in the Elk River newspaper, and insisted it was something he should be part of.
Caouette disagreed. He was only 10 years old in 1976, and did not like a lot of attention “I still don’t,” he said.
The ad was placed by Craig Anderson, a police officer by trade. It was Craig’s idea, with the help of his wife, Judy, to prepare an all-boys choir for the upcoming Elk River bicentennial.
It was the first audition for the group which, today, is internationally known.
“My mom said, ‘auditions are tonight and you need to walk up there,’” Caouette said. “I got about halfway there and there were tears. I just could not do it, so I came home.”
The second trip Caouette made to the audition was chauffeured by his mother, who then told him, “This is very important. It is something you need to do, and you are going to enjoy it, once you get involved in it.”
At the time, Caouette recalls having a difficult time believing his mother. He thought she was a pretty typical mom, who thought his voice was really better than it was. As far as he was concerned, he really did not think he had a good voice at all.
When he arrived at the audition, about 25 boys were already in line ahead of Caouette, and in a short time, another 25 were lined up behind him. He estimated a total of about 100 boys auditioned that night.
“I was just a nervous wreck,” Caouette said. “Then, the kid that had been standing in line ahead of me comes out of his audition and he was crying because he didn’t make it.”
After standing in line for what Caouette describes as “forever,” it was his turn to audition. He was asked to sing a patriotic song, but could not recall which one. When he finished, he was surprised to hear, “I think we can use you.”
With the stress of the audition behind him, Caouette found his mother had been right. He did enjoy being part of the group.
The practices were three times a week. It became something that Caouette looked forward to and loved to be part of. He enjoyed being with the other boys, and describes the adults as “phenomenal.”
His parents had divorced when Caouette was just four years old. Anderson, known as Andy to the Choirboys, became a father figure to him.
“There was just something about him that made it easy to be around him,” Caouette said.
John Fitzgerald, who has been part of the choir since day one, too, is now a full-time chaperone with the Choirboys.
“The quality of those two men is just top notch. They have impacted the lives of so many men,” Caouette said.
Although Caouette recalls the entire experience as very special, he certainly did not see the potential that the choir had, but Anderson did.
“Andy tells the story that they pretty much knew after we performed the first time that it was something that would stick,” Caouette said
The first year the choir sang at the Brookdale mall, performed on at least one local television show, plus did a number of concerts as part of a tour of the Black Hills.
“They taught us more than just to sing,” Caouette said. We learned proper etiquette, ‘this is how you act in a restaurant’ kind of thing.”
A lot of the music they sang was all new to Caouette.
“About 80 percent of the music I had never heard of,” he said. “It was classical and a lot of it was in a different language. Once I learned the songs, I liked it.” Caouette was only with the group for two years. He had to leave because his voice changed.
“I felt bad when I could not be part of it anymore,” Caouette said. “It has gotten progressively bigger. Now, they have a choir for the older kids after their voices have changed.”
The year that Caouette left, the Choirboys toured Vienna, Austria. It was its first tour out of the US.
Caouette has kept in touch with Anderson and Fitzgerald over the years. Two years ago, when the choir performed at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Winsted, Caouette supplied Jimmy’s pizzas and spoke to the boys about his experience with the choir.
Land of Lakes Choirboys known around the world
The Choirboys have come a long way from the first group of 18 Elk River boys whose first choir practice was in 1976. Now, the Choirboys are known all over the world.
The organization has grown to more than 110 boys, who make up six different choirs.
There are three training choirs, with the youngest boys, ages 5, 6, and 7 in the Prep Choir. The other two training choirs feature boys ages 8 to 14.
Two of the touring choirs are the Nordic Choir and the Viking Choir, which consist of boys ages 8 to 14.
The alumini choir features boys from previous choirs whose voices have changed, as well as their fathers.
To create its own unique sound, the choir hired Francis Stockwell in 1997. He was a music director at a school in Switzerland and had worked with the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
Under Stockwell, the Choirboys practice a special method of voice training. The pleasing sound is accomplished by combining the beauty of a well-trained voice with its inherent naturalness.
Caouette continues his love of music
Caouette has always loved music. When he was just four years old, he began playing oatmeal box drums. When he was five years old he got his first drum set.
Today, he shares his musical talent at Holy Trinity Masses, where he plays the drums and sings with a group at various services.
Caouette’s experience had been so positive with the Choirboys, that about three years ago, he wanted his own son, Spencer, 9, to see the group in person and consider joining.
However, Spencer, who today is a sixth grader at Holy Trinity, did not agree with Joe.
“I wasn’t going to push him. He has a good voice, but he is more into the drumming big time,” Joe said.
Joe is married to Natalie and they live in Winsted. Spencer, 12, is their youngest child. He has three older sisters: Ashley, who is married to Josh Clark and lives in Winsted, Nicole who lives in Winsted, and Amber, who is attending college in Florida.