Friday, February 12, 2010

Cantus Gets Schooled!

As I was sitting at my desk today, catching up on my email, I was thinking back to the concert we performed last night for all the students participating in the Minnesota Music Education Association All-State Choir. Every year they have rehearsals for their big concert at the same church where we practice every day: Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. There was this buzz of musical energy radiating through the hallways and rooms of Westminster yesterday as we were preparing to start our own rehearsal. You could hear the different choirs rehearsing in all the different rooms around the church. It brought me back to my high school days, singing with the All-State choir in Peoria, Illinois. I recently transferred my All-State cassette tapes onto CD's in order to sync them to my iPod. Luckily I got a little help from my father-in-law and the CD-recorder in his choir classroom. (Yeah, we didn't get our recordings on fancy discs or download cards back then!)

This year's All-State was special because we offered to sing a concert for the students after their last rehearsal. All 300 young singers, directors and section leaders crowded into the Great Hall and gave us a thunderous applause as a representative from MMEA welcomed us onto the stage. It made me remember why I love my job so much: not just as a singer in Cantus, but also as the Education Outreach Coordinator.

Throughout the year, we as Cantus travel around America and sing about 70-80 concerts per season. What many people don't know is that we also visit about 40 different schools while on those tours of the country, reaching out to over 10,000 students per year. Cantus is a mission-driven organization striving to keep the art of singing alive, especially in young men. We show kids and adults of all ages how to love singing and how to sing better by visiting their schools and performing for them and with them.

Cantus offers all types of outreach opportunities for students: in-school concerts (great for elementary students), choir master classes, lecture/demonstrations, collaborations and day-long workshops for your choir, and "Get Your Guys Singing": a special workshop where Cantus works with all the men of your choirs in order create camaraderie and pride in your men that will enrich the rest of their musical lives. A full menu and description of all our types of outreach are available on our website. We even have an Artist in Residence program where we choose three Minnesota high schools every year who receive four or five visits from Cantus, and a grand concert with all the schools at the end of the year. ALL FOR FREE! We have generous donors and grant-funding which help us implement this great program. Applications for the Cantus AIR program are also available on our website on the Artist in Residence page.

The best part of a Cantus outreach is how all the members of Cantus work collaboratively with your organization. Collaboration is evident in every aspect of Cantus. It's how we choose music, it's how we run a rehearsal, and it's even how we choose where to eat when we are on the road. All the guys work together during every outreach to bring their individual vocal specialties to your choir to achieve the best sound possible. Whether Adam is talking about breathing, or Gary is talking about phrasing, we all "team-teach" to provide a well-rounded education experience for your students.

For more specific information, or to contract Cantus for your school, please email us at:

Monday, February 8, 2010

How Cantus chooses the music we sing

On Wednesday of this week, the artists of Cantus will be doing a little programming...choosing the music we will perform. In this case it will involve choosing music for our 2010-2011 Touring Program 'Before Us'. With this program, we will be using American music to show how people that have come before us have found their 'American Identity'. In this program, William Billings' (1746-1800) 'Lamentation over Boston' will be paired with 'Gravedigger' from Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band). But how does Cantus get those two pieces into the same program?

First, the Cantus artists brainstorm themes and stories that we want to explore: along with 'Before Us' for 2010-11, we've also selected the theme of 'On the Shoulders of Giants' for our 2011-12 Touring Program. That title is derived from Sir Isaac Newton's quotation 'If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants', an obvious homage to the great thinkers that came before him. To Cantus' end, that means masterworks for men's voices by master composers: Liszt, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and more. But that's only a first half; the second half will speak of a different type of 'giants'--larger-than-life personalities and folk heroes like Frankenstein, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Goliath, just to name a few.

But I digress. After a theme has been chosen, we then bring our favorite music, old or new, classical or more popular, to a meeting. For a Cantus program, good music is good music, and if it fits our theme and better tells the story, it goes on the program, even if that means pairing William Billings with Dave Matthews. Typically, we begin with about 100 pieces for each theme, submitted by all the singers. All pieces are listened to or sung through by the whole ensemble, and then fun really begins: discussing, eliminating, re-arranging, choosing, and finally, selecting a suitable program order for the chosen pieces. I would estimate it takes us 4-5 hours of meeting time to put together a program we all love and are excited to sing. It is a time-consuming process, and might look a lot like how the U.S. Congress works, but it is an extremely important process. Inevitably, every single artist in the ensemble has a piece they suggested on the program, and as we sing a program every night, we see that person's tastes and artistic sensibilities on stage. It also gives each artist a greater 'buy-in' into the musical process and overall product, invaluable for an artist-led ensemble.

By the way, Cantus loves suggestions from fans and audience members, so if you have a favorite piece or poem that fits our program themes, let us know. Comment on this blog post with your suggestions.