Cantus has always been in Chanticleer's shadow. How could we not? Chanticleer was one of the main catalysts for Cantus' existence, their 12 members influencing Cantus' early days as a student ensemble, their classic sound a perfect reference for Cantus on their student recordings of the late 1990's, and their full-time employment a dream on which to build a fledgling non-profit company. Over time, Cantus came into their own: They fleshed out a more efficient chamber music process; Members moved on and, because voices continue to mature in their 20's, didn't need replacement; The sound ebbed and flowed into newer territory, becoming more robust in albums like Deep River and Against the Dying of the Light and settling into the more recent Cantus sound in albums like That Eternal Day and Song of a Czech. In recent years, there was overlap between the ensembles with auditionees, members, gigs, and even some repertoire, but there still, stiil had not been a meeting. Until now.
On one of our longest tours to date, we received a text from one of our former members Blake Morgan, now a tenor in Chanticleer, asking if we wanted comps to the Chanticleer show at Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts in Newport News, VA. He knew both ensembles were on tour, and knew that we'd both be in the area at the same time. Cantus had an education outreach that day in the middle of a long drive between Durham, NC and Norfolk, VA, but the timing seemed right. We raced to the venue and showed up just in time to hear Nico Muhly's new commission, "Over The Moon." We loved hearing Chanticleer's signature sound in person, together, for the first time, and we enjoyed seeing our colleague Blake alongside so many of our friends-from-afar for so many years: Cortez Mitchell, Kory Reid, the indelible Eric Alatorre, Adam Ward, and so many others. At the end of the concert, Brian Hinman began an introduction to their encore, Shanendoah, with a shoutout to Cantus. We were so happy to be included as part of their evening, and we didn't want it to stop there.
Rumors of a bar attached to Chanticleer's hotel circulated through the 21 singers, and we trickled over to the spot. It seemed vacant but still open, the wait staff happy to see us and have something to do on a Tuesday evening. With burgers, salads, and drinks in hand, no two members of the same ensemble were sitting next to one another, all of us realizing we didn't have to explain anything about our careers, our full-time salaries and benefits, or our musicmaking: These were the few people in the world who finally knew very well what it was all about. After some time, a couple of us started singing Barbershop tags (yet another common ground between the ensembles) and it occurred to us… If this was such an overdue meeting, we should make the most of it. Everyone was on board with the one song that, of course, immediately came to mind: Franz Biebl's timeless Ave Maria.
Beers in hand, bartenders and wait staff watching, we began the chant together, the sound of male voices drifting through the wooden rafters. Having had no rehearsals with the other ensemble, the cues and tuning were rough, but as we sang, something amazing happened. We evolved. The counterpoint intermingling and new timbres and vibrato in our ears, we did what we knew best and adapted to the aural world around us. The contour of the musical lines gave each all of us more information with which we could blend better, though it was hard to sing consistently noble latin vowels through our beaming grins. By the last three Amens, we had found a common interpretative ground, already hearing a unique voice in the combination of Chanticleer and Cantus. Canticleer. Chantus.
It was indicative of a transformation in our ensembles' relationship. Born through completely different circumstances, often in friendly competition for the same gigs and vocalists, these twenty years still proved fruitful, allowing the two ensembles to simmer with excitement at the chance to meet and, as fate would have it, sing together in a bar. We realized that the spirit of collaboration was very much alive, and that it can manifest itself in many ways, in many random locations, in the best of times.