The news is all about the coronavirus, but the four members of Chanticleer who weren’t able to make Duke Performances’ Friday, March 6th, presentation of Faith of Our Fathers (Sacred Program) in Baldwin Auditorium were struck down by the plain ol’, garden-variety flu. Though the vocal ensemble dubbed as “the world’s reigning male chorus” by The New Yorker is normally made up of an even dozen performers, they proved to be quite adept at adjusting; and with just eight singers on stage, they shone like perfectly-tuned angelic instruments.
Chanticleer’s Faith of Our Fathers showcases the best of religious choral music of more than 500 years, from the middle of the first century, with a selection by the first female composer, Hildegard von Bingen, to contemporary pieces such as Straight Street by J.W. Alexander and Jesse Whitaker (arranged by Joseph Jennings, one of the group’s former members and director from 1984-98). Each piece is meticulously arranged and incredibly demanding, requiring the precision of voices that ebb and flow, supporting each other, demanding control and, ultimately, evoking the most sublime sound of male voices in the world.
Friday evening’s singers included countertenors Gerrod Pagenkopf, Logan Shields, and Adam Ward; tenors Brian Himan, Matthew Mazzola, and Andrew Van Allsburg; and baritone/bass singers Andy Berry and Zachary Burgess, all of whom rose to the occasion to fill the blanks left by their four missing colleagues and to present a memorable evening filled with gorgeous a cappella music.
With an interweaving of sounds and individual notes, all ending at precisely the same instant, Chanticleer is truly an “orchestra of voices.” Some of the music showcases a repeated call-and-response, as is usual in religious music; but the precision that they bring to each piece is phenomenal. It is as if a choir of angels has dropped to the stage to serenade us.
Between each piece, the members shift places, which effectively showcases different voices and creates a whole new sound. At times, as they sing, one imagines brown-cloaked monks in a high-ceilinged vestry, offering their sweet voices to praise the heavens. At other moments, each singer’s personality breaks through; and the sounds of those individual voices are razor sharp, proving the voice is the greatest instrument, capable of flying high or sinking to the deepest depths.
Several selections offer very different music, such as that by Zhou Tian, a Grammy®-nominated composer currently on faculty at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Entitled Trade Winds, the piece mimics the ebb and flow of the ocean, the creaking of massive sailboats, and the sounds of travelers. Three poems from poets who come from various parts of the world make up the song cycle that was specifically designed to be sung a cappella. It’s a distinct change from the cathedral-type of music sung prior; and when it ends in spoken words, there’s a murmur of surprise from the audience.
After a long intermission, the group returns with a Southern Harmony arrangement with distinct influences from slave music and spirituals. Created in the mid-20th century by Ned Rorem (an American composer, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his Air Music), the music is lighter, with no big bass tones as one expects from gospel music. Chanticleer slides from that moment to a selection of sea shanties, then on to a traditional Korean song (Arirang), another spiritual, then finishing with the crowd favorite, Straight Street.
During the evening’s music, each of the eight singers has at least one brief solo, highlighting the fact that each of the members of this phenomenal voice ensemble has a finely tuned instrument and could be a star in his own right; but together, they are a symphony. A wonderful evening, tremendously sung, and not hampered at all by missing four of their singers. Chanticleer is truly a national treasure; and Duke Performances gets a share of the applause for bringing them to the Baldwin Auditorium.
Chanticleer: FAITH OF OUR FATHERS (Duke Performances, March 6 in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke University’s East Campus in Durham, NC).
SHOW: https://dukeperformances.duke.edu/events/chanticleer-faith-of-our-fathers/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/389193901654648/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/user/sfchanticleer.
PRESENTER: https://dukeperformances.duke.edu/, https://www.facebook.com/dukeperformances/, https://www.instagram.com/dukeperformances/, https://twitter.com/dukeperformance, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXF-Yaqa_OybZFHVn07LrxQ.
VENUE: https://dukeperformances.duke.edu/venues/baldwin-auditorium and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baldwin-Auditorium/121087821303451.
Chanticleer (Grammy®-winning all-male vocal ensemble, founded in 1978 in San Francisco, CA):https://www.chanticleer.org/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/ChanticleerSings/ (Facebook page), https://www.instagram.com/chanticleersf/ (Instagram page), https://twitter.com/ChanticleerSF (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanticleer_(ensemble) (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/sfchanticleer (YouTube).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.