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April 30, 2004

Minneapolis Star Tribune

There's impatience in Erick Lichte's voice when he says, "In terms of live performance, we're probably Minnesota's No. 1 cultural export to the rest of the country -- that is, the most concerts for the most people. It'd be nice if people here knew that." There's no denying that Cantus' reach is national, perhaps international. Since 2000, when the group turned professional, most of its energy has gone into touring. It does 40 to 60 dates a year, performing in such far reaches as Canada and France. If one excludes the bigger opera choruses, such as that of the Metropolitan Opera, there are only two full-time professional choruses in the United States: Cantus and the group it was modeled on, the San Francisco-based male ensemble Chanticleer.

Cantus, formed by four students at St. Olaf College in Northfield, has worked hard to stand out in a difficult musical niche. Consider these issues: Budget. In less than five years, the group's annual budget has grown to nearly $400,000. Cantus receives almost no grant money, and about 95 percent of its income is earned through ticket sales or concert fees. This is unheard of in the not-for-profit world, where most organizations must get as much as 60 percent of their budget from donations. Singers receive salaries of about $20,000 this year ($30,000 last year), which some supplement with other part-time gigs. Singers in part-time professional choruses, by comparison, are paid per-service, and might earn $3,000 to $4,000 in an average year. "Basically," as Lichte (pronounced "light") says, "we've made this work as a small business. We're like the James Brown of choruses: the hardest-working men in the choral music business."

The group's founding premise was "chamber music for voices." That meant there was no conductor and that every musical decision was open for discussion. "That turned out to be crazy," said tenor Brian Arreola. "It could take an hour to discuss four bars." As a remedy, the singers developed what they call the "producer system": Each member is in charge of one piece on an upcoming program, coming up with a concept for the piece and conducting its rehearsal. More

Posted by acapnews at April 30, 2004 8:27 AM


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