Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Orchestra Of Voices

That's what Tony and I heard last night when we went to a Chanticleer concert at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (AKA the New Cathedral).

They've been hosting concerts at the Cathedral Basilica since the early 1980s, but I've never attended one. Befitting the space, the concerts tend to be classically-based music, and I only have a passing knowledge of the genre.  However, I was excited to see Chanticleer,  an 12-member, all-male vocal ensemble.  The San Francisco a capella group has been around since 1978, and sings music from the last five centuries.  They've won several Grammy awards, so I figured we were in for a nice show.

For the concert the church was divided into three sections. Within each section there was open seating, so we got there early to get a good spot.  The doors opened at 7:00; since we weren't sure how long it would take to find a parking space we allowed plenty of time. We ended up getting there ten minutes early, so we waited in a short line in the church narthex (right inside the front door).  While I was waiting I got to look at the fabulous mosaics that surrounded me.  The Basilica has one of the largest collection of mosaics in the world, and the narthex is completely covered with scenes depicting the life of Saint Louis. I go to Mass at the Basilica a couple of times a year, but I always head straight into the church so this is the first time I've noticed them.

About the time I got done rubbernecking, the doors opened. We entered the church and took seats in a pew close to the front of our section, then I read the program while I waited for the show to start at 8:00.  I learned that the show was divided into six sections, with an intermission after the first four.  I didn't recognize any of the selections or composers, but the program notes were considerate enough to provide information about both.  Right on time, the lights in the church dimmed and the group members came out and arranged themselves in a semicircle at the top of the chancel steps.  Each singer carried a black portfolio, which they opened in unison. One of the men struck a pitch, and after a few seconds their voices melded in beautiful harmony.

There were a dozen singers, divided equally by vocal ranges.  There were three baritones, three tenors, three altos, and three sopranos.  (I was amazed that a male voice could go so high!)  Although I enjoyed hearing the blended voices, it was also fun to figure out which singers were performing the different tones.  As the evening went on, it didn't matter that I'm a novice of classical music, or that I wasn't fluent in Latin or Old English.  The fusion of the voices blew me away!

The first half of the program was predominantly music from the 1500s.  After each song was over, the group members simultaneously  closed their portfolios, then bowed in unison.  Before I knew it the first half of the evening was over, and the church lights came up for the intermission. During the break, I was able to stand up and look thoroughly around the church, seeing more of the wonderful mosaics.

The next two sections were selections from the twentieth century.  Again, the blending of the singers' voices was divine. After the first section was finished, the singers put away their music portfolios and performed three gospel music selections.  These were less serious than the other musical pieces, and it looked like the men were having fun.

All too soon the house lights came up to the end of the concert.  I couldn't believe almost two hours had passed.  What a great night!


  1. That sounds just lovely! I was a music major in college so I can just imagine! The place sounds lovely, too!

  2. sounds like a wonderful concert, would've loved to hear those fabulous voices!