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Woodbury siblings surrounded by song

Woodbury residents (from left) Tommy, David, Bobby and Timmy Nelson all perform as members of the Minnesota Boychoir. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

Music takes a high priority at the Nelson household.

Instruments at the Woodbury home include a grand piano and a didgeridoo - the Australian aboriginal wind instrument that emits a wobbling bass sound.

However, the most notable sounds in the house come from the Nelsons' four sons - all of whom are members of the renowned Minnesota Boychoir.

The Nelson brothers, along with a family from Shoreview, represent the largest family contingent with four brothers apiece in the 150-boy choir.

"Such a unique experience and opportunity to have all four boys from one family as members of the Minnesota Boychoir," said Mark Johnson, artistic director for Minnesota Boychoir.

Founded in 1962, Minnesota Boychoir is the oldest boy choir in the Twin Cities. The list of acts with which Minnesota Boychoir has performed include the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Opera, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony and the Prague Philharmonic.

The Nelson family has been part of the choir for a decade now, ever since their eldest son, 17-year-old David, joined the group. He said he was recruited by the boy choir "and my brothers followed suit."

"Over the past decade, David, Robert, Thomas and Timothy have contributed their voice, musical skill and talent to every one of my ensembles in the organization," Johnson said.

The experience has been life-changing, David said.

"Boychoir has been the medium through which much of my life has taken place," said the Math and Science Academy senior. "It's given me a solid idea of what I'd like to do with my life."

He hopes to attend St. Olaf College with plans to study music and math.

Boychoir travels have taken David around the world, having performed at the Sydney, Australia, Opera House and at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

The boys' father, Rick Nelson, recalled how, at the Sydney concert, the Minnesota Boychoir received a special recognition.

After the performance, the Minnesota boys received a standing ovation not just from the audience, but from other choirs that were on stage.

Rick said that doesn't happen every day.

"It was a magical night," he said, recalling how, while walking from the concert to their bus, the Minnesota boys were applauded and greeted "like rock stars."

David, who was still a relative newcomer to the choir at the time, said he wished he would have performed there when he was older so the memories would be more vivid.

Still, he said the experience "was incredible."

Performing in the choir is no walk in the park, said David and his brothers - all of whom also attend MSA. The boys must memorize at least 15 songs a year - some of which are in foreign languages.

The Nelsons have sung in Latin, Russian, German, Swahili, Italian and Swedish.

Indeed, there is rigor involved, Rick said.

"Older boys (choir members) do some incredibly complex things," he said.

The boys' mother, Nancy Nelson, agreed.

"You wouldn't see the typical high school choir doing it," she said.

Minnesota Boychoir holds auditions, though no one gets cut.

The Nelsons described a family feeling that has developed through years of involvement with the choir. The boys have built close friendships, while Nancy and Rick have also found a sense of community among other boychoir families.

"You don't get that in too many places," Nancy said.

Bobby, 15, said the friendships made and trips the choir has taken have made the experience special to him.

"It gives a child a unique opportunity," said Bobby, who is in his ninth year with Minnesota Boychoir.

In his fifth year with the choir, 11-year-old Timmy said the program allows singers to develop in a jiffy.

"I love the fact that you can start out a bad singer ... half a month later, you can hear improvement in the tone of your voice," he said.

Timmy's brother, 14-year-old Tommy, said the experience has led to new friendships and exploration of music.

"It's probably the best organization I've been in," he said.

Minnesota Boychoir, under the direction of Mark Johnson, performs at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis. The choir performs twice on Jan. 6 at Landmark Center in St. Paul; those performances are at 1 and 3:30 p.m. More information about the choir and the concerts is available at boychoir.org

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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