Cantus concert on Oct. 8 in Boe Chapel proved that their concoction of blended voices, perfected parts, and smooth tone is a recipe for luscious sound. However, beneath the tuxedoed exteriors of the Cantus men are mischievous boys eager to have fun; singing together happens to be the best way they know how to do that while legitimately making a living. Most of the members are St. Olaf graduates. "Its fun to have [professors and friends] see what were doing now," says tenor and Tour Manager Pete Zvanovec.
Their playful natures complement their refined exterior through the groups communication and facial expressions, be it of a humorous or somber character. The boys love to play around with farcical songs, yet they dive into serious songs with passion and fire. Cantus particularly excels at creating an intriguingly diverse program of multicultural songs combined with classical and spirtuals.
When describing the groups preference for foreign pieces, Zvanovec explained "Europe has a strong male choral tradition that America doesnt have." The choir tries to bring this to American audiences as best they can, which requires historical research, as well as research on performance techniques from other cultures.
The Cantus performance had four themes: Songs of the Diabolic and Divine; War and Peace; Love and Songs of the Earth. Cantus started the concert with a Diabolic song "Daemon Irrepit Callidus" by Gyögy Orbán, that warns of the Devils trickery but reminds that "it is still worth less than the heart of Jesus." Unlike other religious songs that tend to preach with words, Orbáns harmonies speak greater volumes to the listener.
Cantus confidence throughout the night was apparent, as each member not only sang his own part exquisitely, but also was exceedingly sensitive and responsive to his fellow singers parts. Cantus has excellent breath and eye communication, as well as facial expressions and body movements. Cantus has put in many hours of rehearsal with their music, consciously making each decision about breath, dynamics and pronunciation. This rare communication only enhances the experience of watching a Cantus concert.
Certain songs were rather nondescript, such as "Evensong at Brookside" by Henry Cowell. Although pleasing and beautifully performed, it was merely a follower to cleanse the palate from the previous song, "Varjele, Jumala, soasta" by Veljo Tormis. The text of this Finnish prayer describes the horrors of war and asks God to shelter and protect, its message of wars destructive potential came across with utmost clarity despite the language barrier.
The song began quietly, with a low rumble in the bass and overlying harmonies in the upper voices. Cantus maintained an unrelenting pulse throughout the song: never slowing, never rushing, a crescendo building all the while. Before the audience could realize what happened, the massive sound of eleven well-trained male voices assaulted their ears at full force, augmented in volume by a tam-tam played by bass Erick Lichte.
Other highlights of the program included three spirituals. All were enjoyable, such as "In His Care-O," a popular song with the St. Olaf Choir, of which many of the members of Cantus were members during their time at St. Olaf.
Another similarity to the St. Olaf Choir is the familial atmosphere in the group: "Were like a bunch of brothers," said Zvanovec and tenor Brad Erbes. "We love to hang out, have fun you play, but you also fight."
The boys agree that they are in Cantus for the performance experience. Performing is a rush, Erbes said, but "[the musician's life] is as unglamorous as I expected were pretty blue collar. I didnt expect fame and fortune."
Its hard to believe them as they take the stage for the second time, grinning from their standing ovation.