Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review: An "Over the Moon" musical program with Chanticleer

Chanticleer male chorus officially began around a dining table in San Francisco at the home of founding member Louis Botto in 1978. The name was a suggestion of founding member Charlie Erikson, who was in the midst of reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and  inspired by the name of the “clear singing” rooster in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. It is a combination of the French words "chanter" , meaning “to sing” and "clair", which means “clear”.  

The dining table beginning would turned into singing in their home community of San Francisco to traveling to all 50 states and soon after, a tradition that continues today, of traveling the world to share their music. In 1983, Joseph Jennings joined the group and began a distinct legacy within the group, soon becoming Music Director and remaining in that capacity until 2008, along the way amassing a number of gospel and jazz arrangements and a long list of works commissioned by Chanticleer, with some still performed in the group's programs today. From the beginning, there was a vision for full-time, salaried employment for the choral group's members and that dream became a reality in 1991 for the 12-member, all-male a cappella chorus. Over the past 38 years, more than 100 men have sung in the ensemble, each leaving their own personal imprint in the history of this group.

Chanticleer is now a non-profit organization, governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees, administered by a professional staff with the full-time professional ensemble. The organization also encompasses an education program serving over 5,000 students every year in a sequence of programs supervised by a full-time Education Director and in 2010 was recognized with the "Chorus America Education and Outreach Award".

In 2000, Chanticleer began the new millenium with a new distinction: a GRAMMY® winning , with "Colors of Love" won the GRAMMY® Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance (With or Without a Conductor.) . In 2003, two more GRAMMY® awards followed for "Lamentations and Praises". 

My first Chanticleer concert was in 1992. I was a high school sophomore in my home state of Oklahoma and my mother took me to the concert at the university in our hometown where she was an alumni of the music program. Eric Alatorre was a member of the ensemble at the time and remains a part of the group today. Whenever I go to a concert and see Eric after the show, this little piece of trivia always begins our conversation, before Eric's tradition of bringing out his cell phone to show me the newest picture of his family. 

Last Thursday evening, I attended what was my latest Chanticleer concert. This one, a presentation of their "Over the Moon" program, presented at the beautiful Smith Opera House in Geneva, NY. 

Chanticleer is comprised of sopranos Gerrod Pagenkopf, Kory Reid and Darita Seth; altos Cortez Mitchell, Alan Reinhardt and Adam Ward; tenors Michael Bresnahan, Brian Hinman and Blake Morgan; and bass and baritones Eric Alatorre, Matthew Knickman and Marques Jerrell Ruff. William Fred Scott is Music Director.

The program weaves back and forth between traditional and contemporary songs and features some notable solos, including Adam Ward's haunting melodic solo during "Mirrorball" a contemporary selection on the program by Elbow/Guy Garvey and arranged by Peter Eldridge. A pure delight in the middle of the program are back-to-back performances of two of the most recognizable "moon" songs: Henry Mancini's "Moon River", arranged by Jace Wittig, and Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon", arranged by Evan Price. 
A highlight of "Over the Moon" is appropriately presented at the conclusion of the program, their stunning version of the hymn, "There is a Balm in Gilead", featuring a spirit-filled, rafter-raising solo by Marques Jerrell Ruff. The performance touched me to the core of my soul. 

In 1992, their primary method of communicating was their mailing list for actual "snail mail", which my late mother and I were on and would receive a Chanticleer newsletter highlighting their travels and their upcoming concerts. Today, you can easily and readily find them across social media on their websiteFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and even hear some of their performances on their YouTube channel. If you do visit their YouTube channel, I must share my recommendations for  you listen to one of my all-time favorite Chanticleer performances, "Shenandoah", "Creole Love Song", along with "Cells Planets", which has the ability of making me incredibly happy while moving me to tears.

Their concerts, their recordings come with my highest recommendation.

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