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April 23, 2004

Troy Record

To speak of a cappella singing conjures up two disparate images: four guys standing on the corner singing popular tunes - from the do-wop of the '50s to the barbershop of an earlier era - or sacred music sung by a choir. There's a lot of room in between those poles for vocal ensembles such as Chanticleer, the 12-man San Francisco-based ensemble that has in the past quarter century become a Grammy darling while tackling a broad repertoire from jazz to gospel, renaissance to requiem.

Their signature sound, says Jennings, "I would say is a transparent sound. It's full but not thick. It's capable of lots of colors and adapts itself to a lot of styles. And the fact that it's all men, covering all vocal ranges, gives it a homogeneity of sound, like a string quartet." The roots of Chanticleer - named for the singing rooster in Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' - were informal. Botto, a musical-history major singing with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Grace Cathedral choir in the 1970s, gathered together a small group of friends to explore the Renaissance choral repertoire not widely being performed.

"It was just to sing early music for fun," says Jennings. "They'd meet in people's apartments, and they'd eat and sing." A friend persuaded them to perform in concert at Old Mission Dolores outside San Francisco, which led to a packed house, a decision to continue to perform locally on occasion - and ultimately an introduction to a concert booker in New York.

"The group had a very important decision to make, whether or not to accept commercial bookings," says Jennings. "Everyone had day jobs, and to this point it had all been an avocation rather than a vocation." The decision to make the jump to a professional venture led to more formalized auditions and an expansion of the original nine-man ensemble to its current 12, "a good, manageable size," says Jennings. "We do lots of SATB music, but if we do five- or six-part music, we can still split it up pretty well. But at this size, we can still know each other, know each other's voices and exist as a chamber ensemble." More

Posted by acapnews at April 23, 2004 8:33 AM

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