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After trying times, choir is singing again

Brian Collar has the new Florida Boychoir hitting the high notes after years of financial woes.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
Published January 20, 2006


RIVERVIEW - The bearded man at the piano played scales but did not look at the boys who sang the notes.

Mi-mi-mi-mi-mi

The director interrupted, frowning.

"Miiii," the man corrected them, in a mellifluous tenor.

The boys echoed the note, all of them on pitch this time.

Director Brian Collar puts eight members of the Florida Boychoir through the paces in twice-weekly rehearsals at First Baptist Church of Riverview.

Along with the count of each measure, the boys are learning music theory and the English translations of German and Latin music. It takes on spiritual meaning for Collar.

"God created music for his worship," Collar said. "The Florida Boychoir uses classical music to teach these boys to be ministers in their singing."

For Collar, 42, the choir also represents a return to his first love - a passion that wiped Collar out financially eight years ago and caused him to be thrown out of his home.

As a boy, Collar sang in the St. Petersburg Boychoir. The experience meant so much to him, he attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., with a goal: "I was going to return and direct the St. Petersburg Boychoir."

One problem: The choir folded while Collar was still in school.

In 1986, at age 22, he created the Florida Boychoir, a nonprofit Christian group in Seminole. The group toured the United States and Europe singing Bach and Schubert, and music from operas such as Carmen and Amahl and the Night Visitors.

In 1992, the choir moved its operations to the grounds of St. Paul's School in Clearwater. Then, Collar founded the Florida Boychoir School, a full-time school for choir members.

That same year, the choir hosted an international boy choir festival, with choirs from around the world staying at the Econo Lodge and Tennis Resort of St. Petersburg. When some of the guests failed to pay the bill for their five-day stay, the Econo Lodge came after the Florida Boychoir for nearly $5,000.

Collar said he referred all complaints to the visiting choirs.

The school lasted three years, until 1995.

Two years later in 1997, Collar took over Camp Keystone and Old McMickey's Farm, a petting zoo on a 48-acre property in Odessa, with an option to buy. He moved his wife, Dianne, and seven children into a log house on the property. The plan was to raise enough money through running the camp and operating the petting zoo to fund the choir and other operations, Collar said.

In 1999, he filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 13 of the federal bankruptcy law. The boy choir stopped singing.

Early in 1999, the Collars were evicted from the camp and were sued for more than $94,000 in total damages.

He was also sued by Wellington Schools of Pinellas, a Largo private school where four of Collar's children were enrolled, for back tuition totaling $13,000. He later paid the school the money, court records show.

Then in 1999, Collar founded Camp Frontier on a 200-acre expanse near U.S. 301 on McMullen Road in Riverview, which serves a traditional palette of summer camp fare, including music, archery and horseback riding.

In 2005, Collar founded his second Florida Boychoir School, a nonprofit organization. He said he would like to start a group in St. Petersburg to link with the greater Brandon group that meets at First Baptist Church of Riverview. He asks parents to pledge $600 a year to join.

Getting a group ready to tour is still two to three years away, Collar said.

Collar said he would also like to rebuild a full-service school similar to the one he ran in the 1990s and host another international boy choir festival in 2007 in southern Hillsborough.

"It's hard to believe I spent seven years without doing this," Collar said of his choral work, "because it's what I have a passion for."

He had intended to rejuvenate the grounded boy choir by 2000, but it took longer to recover from the Camp Keystone experience.

"The stubbornness of not wanting to quit was the hardest part," he said. "I would have stayed until I was dragged out kicking and screaming, which is pretty much what happened."

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at 6621-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 19, 2006, 08:52:06]


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