From the Road: Cantus Master Classes

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Just this morning, Cantus was at Crookston High School, singing with the 9-12 grade non-audition concert choir.

Crookston is the final stop on Cantus’ tour of Minnesota as Artists-in-Residence at Classical MPR. Experienced educators (Cantus runs their own residency with local High Schools,) Cantus has made time in each town in which they have performed over the last two months to work with local junior high school, high school, and college choirs.

In Ely, students bussed in from all over the region to participate, joining forces into one area choir that stood on the risers facing the men of Cantus. After listening to the choir sing, Cantus retreated to a huddle in a corner of the stage, spent a minute in intense private conversation, broke the huddle, returned to their chairs, and then one-by-one took center stage in front of the students to work on a particular aspect of the performance.

Cantus worked on helping the students relax their faces, extend their vowels, work out the most important words for emphasis, and stretch their dynamics. As each of the men of Cantus took their turn in front of the students they were funny, engaging, and encouraging, and after 45 minutes everyone watching was gasping and whispering at the difference in the choir’s sound.

The students also felt the difference. Taylor Davis, a member of the Ely High School choir, said that he attended only because his teacher had told him to come.

“When I first heard about it I thought it was going to be kind of lame,” said Davis, “but now that I actually saw it I thought it was really cool. Like, it really had an effect on me.”

Davis, a male singer in a High School choir, also expressed a sentiment that was echoed by several of the choir directors involved, saying that in his choir “there’s not that many guys, and, like, being able to hear a lot more guys kind of makes me feel that there’s actually other guys that like to sing.”

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Aware of the heavy attrition of 13 and 14 year-old boys in the not-so-cool art of singing, Scott Shrimpton, the choir director for the Grand Rapids High School choir, had arranged to bus in the boys from the Junior High School choir to watch the master class with the High School choir in Grand Rapids. Shrimpton wanted to expand the younger students’ image of what singing can be, and expressed the hope that the opportunity to see Cantus, a 9-member professional male vocal ensemble, would inspire them to continue their singing with the High School choir when they arrived.

Cantus is performing their final Artist-in-Residence concert from the road in Crookston tonight at the Kiehle Auditorium at the University of Minnesota – Crookston (call 218-281-8266 for tickets). All of the students who sang with Cantus this morning have been invited to attend the concert free of charge, thanks to the Legacy Amendment for Arts and Cultural Heritage, giving them the chance to see the men in action, and hopefully inspire them to keep on singing.

The Short Version: Mr. Toad's Enthusiasms

We do take to heart, dear reader/listener, Mr. Mencken’s assertion that for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. The complexity at hand being Robert Schumann’s personality–a very complex thing indeed. But this is The Short Version, where time is a tiny tyrant. Allowances must be made, corners must be cut, though great sighs may be sighed. The simple, the neat, the wrong of it, therefore, reside within.

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Debussy on Mercury

I don’t know if you’ve followed the Messenger mission, but it’s the first spacecraft dedicated to orbiting Mercury – our innermost planet. It was launched in 2004, and just a week ago made it into orbit.

The first pictures arrived yesterday, and I was fascinated by the choice of Messenger’s first photographic return: “Debussy and Its Hundreds of Miles of Raysdebussy_2.jpg.” “Debussy,” in this case is a crater, with prominent rays that extend hundreds of kilometers out.

Composer Lee Hoiby, 1926-2011

Lee Hoiby died yesterday, age 85. He was a distinguished composer of song and opera.

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, he studied with Gian Carlo Menotti.

Perhaps his most famous work is a setting of Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, premiered in 1971 by St Paul Opera in Minnesota.

More recently in Minnesota, the men’s chorus Cantus gave the world premiere of Lee Hoiby’s “Last Letter Home,” a musical setting of a poignant last letter sent home by a soldier killed in Iraq. Click here for an interview with Hoiby, and a performance from Cantus.

The Short Version: Restoration's Son

After a decade without a king, England dusted off the throne for Charles II. The celebrated and notorious Restoration featured a riot of pleasures and pains, plus the brief reign of England’s greatest native-born composer for centuries to come.

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On the Air This Week

A look ahead at what’s on the air in the coming week:

Friday, 3 pm: Friday Favorites

Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Simone Dinnerstein plays Bach

Saturday, noon: Metropolitan Opera: Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Bach in the Big Apple- Paul Jacobs at Alice Tully Hall

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert, including Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde”

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians play chamber music by Carter, Beethoven, and Mozart

Elizabeth Taylor and Classical Music

Here’s sad news that will be on the minds of many today: Elizabeth Taylor has died, at age 79.

She’s not someone immediately associated with classical music. Still, if you wanted to remember her, classical music, and the glamor that was Hollywood, you could do so with a couple moments from her film “Rhapsody” (1954). In the first clip, Vittorio Gassman plays some Sarasate, and in the second, John Ericson is the soloist in the Rachmaninoff Second.

R. I. P. Yakov Kreizberg

The conductor Yakov Kreizberg died earlier this week; he was only 51. Many in our area will remember him, from his frequent appearances with the Minnesota Orchestra–in fact, he was apparently a serious contender to become the Orchestra’s music director.

Tony Woodcock, the Orchestra’s former president, leaves these warm and at times humorous reminiscences.

LATER: Thanks for the keen eyes–corrections now in place!