Sunday, 22 August 2010

You have been listening to the Boight Family

Soaring a capella harmonies draw a crowd sheltering from the midday heat. People sit on the floor, lean against pillars and stare at the painted tiles like tired pilgrims in an Indian temple, only with a choral soundtrack.

The young family’s soothing vocals provide welcome respite from the New York heatwave. Children play hide and seek between the pillars. Mr Boight stands like a general, leading his troops in song, beating out time with shiny leather shoes. His teenage son, lanky and awkward, checks his watch, yawns and closes his eyes to hit a high note.

After 20 minutes they stop.

"You have been listening to the Boight Family with Mark Redstock on saxophone", Mr Boight announces.

The pretty Miss Boight approaches onlookers for money. Then they break into 'Ave Maria' for the second time. Central Park tourists wander on from under the arches of Bethesda fountain but are quickly replaced. I remain, unable to find anywhere else to escape the sweatiness, and think about the Jacksons.

After turning down the offered $5 CD for a second time from the embarrassed looking teenage daughter I notice that much of the harmony and backing vocals come from a tinny portable CD player, masked by Mr Boight's strong tenor lead and Mark Redstock’s sax. The 2 smallest singers are barely singing at all. It's the older girls who balance their father's strong tenor and stop the whole performance sounding ridiculous. The music shifts tempo as all 5 children start swinging and clicking their fingers to a jazzy sax solo that turns into, "A few of my favourite things".

The children playing in the arches have all moved on apart from two: young Boights too little to stand still and pretend to sing. If this is the Family von Trappe where's Maria?

The longer I sit under the arches the more questions I have: how long have they been doing this? Why? Religion - the songs vary from classical to gospel to generic r’n’b. Dreams of musical glory – they only have 5 songs which the children sing reluctantly. Enjoyment? Apart from the serious Mr Boight and the creepy Redstock the children all look miserable, tired and bored. How important is the income from the hat and CDs that his daughter touts to the family’s income? How does proud Mr Boight feel when he leads his family home after a long afternoon singing ‘Ave Maria’ to tourists in the Bethesda arches?

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