By Kristi Kates
First, a little background. Chanticleer, the internationally-renowned singing group, has actually been around since 1978. Founded by musicology grad student Louis Botto - who found it unusual that much of the repertoire he was studying wasnt actually being performed - the group was initially pulled from members of choirs in which Botto sang (namely the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Grace Cathedral Choir), and began as a nine-member endeavor.
They named themselves after Chanticleer, the singing rooster in one of Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales - and the group debuted before a capacity audience at San Frans historic Old Mission Dolores. With their very first show a smash success, the nonet agreed to continue on, and a singing tradition was born.
AUDITION TO SING
Today, Chanticleer has expanded to a dozen members, although they still continue musically much along the same philosophy. New members are added periodically as others drop away from the project or retire; current music director and performer Matthew Oltman, who joined the group himself 13 years ago, says that their record holder has been in the group for 26 years, while a couple of the members have only been singing with Chanticleer for one year.
He also explains that the process of becoming a Chanticleer singer isnt a simple one.
We audition people every year, he begins, but were always just 12 members, so of course a spot has to be open first. I knew of Chanticleer back in high school and college - Ive always been a singer - so when I finished my undergrad and masters degrees in voice, and I heard they were holding auditions, I thought, well, as a singer, Im going to have to get used to going to auditions, so this is good practice. Thats the funny part - I approached it as something for me to do to just get experience auditioning - and I got in.
The audition process itself, Oltman says, wasnt the typical audition in which you might walk in, state your name, sing, and get a verdict; the Chanticleer auditions take three full days.
You sing by yourself, you sing with others, you sight-read and sing, you even just hang out with the others, Oltman explains, its as much about chemistry between the members as it is music.
600 YEARS OF SPACE
Now that Oltmans got over a dozen years as a Chanticleer under his belt, his music director role finds him responsible for choosing the repertoires of songs and programming the concerts. The dozen men blend their individual singing skills so well - all the way from countertenor to bass - that theyve been dubbed an orchestra of voices.
The current performance that Chanticleer are touring with is a program called Out of This World, which Oltman explains is an exposition of music dealing with space and the Heavens.
Well be performing music on that theme spanning about 600 years of music history, from the Renaissance all the way to pieces of music that weve commissioned specifically for Chanticleer to perform, he says.
One of those new pieces, written by San Francisco composer Mason Bates, is titled Observer in the Magellanic Cloud, while another piece of music, Oltman says, uses words spoken by a NASA astronaut as he reflected on space.
BEIJING TO TRAVERSE BAY
Chanticleer may not travel as far as space with their performances, but one of the things Oltman says he personally likes best about being part of the group - after the music itself, of course - are all of the travel opportunities.
We have played in so many unusual and wonderful venues, he says, weve sung in most of the great concert houses in Europe, which is a thrill because of how famous they are. Weve done everything from singing in outdoor amphitheaters in the woods to singing in the famous Egg, the National Center for the Performing Arts that they built in Beijing.
In addition to these slightly more exotic locales, Oltman says that their upcoming performance here will be his third time in Traverse City.
Ive played in Michigan many times in my 13 years with Chanticleer, he says, Traverse City is just so pretty. Thats one of the many great things about being in the group - we get to see so many beautiful places in the States and around the world.
Chanticleer will be performing at the City Opera House in TC on Friday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m.; www.cityoperahouse.org or 231-941-8082 for tickets ($35/$20).