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December 26, 2007

It amazes me that I could have lived in the Bay Area for so long and not made it to a Chanticleer gig until a couple of days ago. Very glad to have finally gotten my shit together enough to catch the all-male vocal ensemble perform one of its legendary Christmas concerts at St. Ignatius' Church in San Francisco. It was an amazing experience. I completely understand why The New Yorker called the San Francisco-based group “the world’s reigning male chorus."

The members of the group, the only full-time classical vocal ensemble in the U.S., perform many of their songs from the back or sides of a concert hall. This isn’t a gimmick: What the audience cannot see it hears with greater clarity. It was in this fashion that the group kicked off their concert -- with a performance of an 11th century Gregorian Chant sung from way in the back of the church. The tone was like a silk thread. If you didn’t know you were in the company of an ensemble, you’d think you were listening to a single voice. Later on in the program, the group performed a showy arrangement of the carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” again from somewhere beyond regular sightlines. The music soared so high – a sustained top A ringing out for at least five seconds above the bell-like harmonies – that I thought I was listening to an all-female chorus. When the group eventually made its way to the front of the auditorium I was momentarily shocked to find that there wasn’t a woman among them – just 12 preppy-looking, perky-faced young men in assorted slacks, shirts, wool sweaters and ties.

If I'm not careful, I may become a Chanticleer groupie and follow them around when they're next on this side of the world. In May following a busy few months traveling between Paris, Vienna, Prague and other European cities, Chanticleer will return to California to embark upon an unusual tour. The group is taking a pilgrimage down California’s legendary Camino Real – the “royal road” that connects the California Missions. Starting in southern California at the Mission in San Luis Obispo, the group will wend its way up the Camino via Carmel, Soledad, San Juan Bautista and other Missions before winding up at Mission Dolores in San Francisco. It was at this venue that the group debuted 30 years ago. At each stop on the journey, Chanticleer will perform a series of eight concerts of choral music from the 17th century – the age when the Missions were in full flourish. I plan to be on that tour bus.


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