EDGERTON—What often impresses audiences most about Cantus’ performances isn’t the angelic singing—and it is angelic—but rather the embedded themes that turn each concert into a story.
“We program around a story and try to take audiences on a journey. Music helps tell that story,” said tenor Paul Scholtz. “Maybe audiences weren’t expecting the total program to be as compelling as it is. They came in expecting beautiful music, and we work hard on that, but the program aspects are pleasantly surprising.”
The eight members of the male vocalist group will bring their beautiful voices and penchant for storytelling to the Edgerton Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. March 17. Tickets are $25.
In 1995, a group of choir singers at St. Olaf College south of Minneapolis formed Cantus. In 2001, it became one of two full-time professional singing groups in the U.S., Scholtz said.
Turning pro led to a nationwide audition search for the Twin Cities-based act, which now performs in big cities and small towns and travels overseas.
Members have come and gone over the years, but the current lineup comprises tenors Scholtz, Jacob Christopher, Zachary Colby and Adam Fieldson; baritones David Geist and Matthew Goinz; and basses Chris Foss and Samuel Green.
“We do a wide variety of styles. That’s kind of our calling card,” Scholtz said. “Anything from chant to 19th-century music to new compositions to pop and covers of stuff that’s coming out currently.”
Cantus does not have a director. The group’s artistic choices and its performances are simply the collaborative result of all eight members, he said.
Their creative process typically begins by finding a story they want to tell. Then the men find music to fit the theme.
One theme became known as “No Greater Love Than This,” which detailed the experience of going to war and the aftermath of coming home.
The show began with 1920s-era military propaganda songs about how enjoyable war was. That transitioned into songs about the terrors of war, saying goodbye to family and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, Scholtz said.
The current tour’s theme is called “Discovery of Sight.” Scholtz isn’t sure how the idea came together, but he described the show as an exploration of the “science and poetry” of seeing.
The music itself will fit a chronological cycle, moving from afternoon to evening to midnight and then to morning and midday again. It will include a song specially commissioned for the tour called “Coffee with Borges,” written by Gabriel Kahane.
The song references the life of Jorge Luis Borges, a writer who gradually lost his eyesight over time.
Many of the songs are adapted from poetry that references life and death, light and darkness. Scholtz called the arrangements “really beautiful music.”
“(We talk about) sight as it relates to darkness and darkness as a metaphor for death and struggling with mortality,” he said. “We take it from many different angles and allow the audience to access it on a personal level. Depending on what they bring to the performance, they’ll experience the concert in a way that’s most powerful to them.”
When Cantus isn’t performing, it conducts music education outreach at its home base in Minneapolis and while touring on the road. Scholtz said he and his colleagues understand how lucky they are to have a full-time job making music, so they want to share that with potential artists from the next generation.
Even if those kids don’t become singers, the educational workshops can bring people of different political backgrounds together and demonstrate how impactful art can be, Scholtz said.
Scholtz successfully auditioned for Cantus in 2015. The ensemble was on his radar after a high school choir director played some of the group’s recordings.
The best part of being in Cantus is getting to continue his lifelong passion for singing and share that happiness with audiences across the globe, he said.
“It’s really amazing … when you’re singing a show every day, to have that be a thing you’re doing for your vocation,” Scholtz said. “To get to walk out there with seven of your close colleagues and perform for your audience and make beautiful music for folks who have come to see you is really a joy.”