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March 14, 2006

Cantus keeps fallen soldier's spirit alive

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN):

He was one soldier in a war where more than 2,000 American lives have been lost, but the words from the final letter Pfc. Jesse Givens of Fort Carson, Colo., sent to his wife reverberated around the nation. It appeared in the New York Times and on "Oprah." His wife, Melissa, who gave birth to the couple's son, Carson, less than one month after her husband died in Iraq in 2003, read his loving farewell to his family for the HBO documentary "Last Letters Home: Voices of the American Troops From the Battlefields of Iraq."

On Friday, Cantus will unveil a newly commissioned work, "Private First Class Jesse Givens," based on that letter, during the first of two concerts celebrating the vocal group's 10th anniversary. "It's been this emotional ride for commissioning this piece," said Erick Lichte, who formed Cantus with three classmates while attending St. Olaf College in Northfield in 1995. "This is really dealing with living people and has just been much bigger than anything else we've done to date."

It began when Cantus, a full-time men's choral group that has given more than 300 concerts across North America and Europe during the past decade, wanted to collaborate with American composer Lee Hoiby on a piece. "Lee was very interested in working together, but we didn't have a direction for the piece," Lichte said. "And the challenge in composing for a choir is having to pick a text, because that determines the whole direction of where things will go."

Lichte and Hoiby, best known for his work in operas, initially talked during the summer of 2004. "A few months later, Lee called me. He had read this article in the New York Times about Jesse Givens," Lichte recalled. "He read to me this poignant and wonderful letter, and he starts crying, and I start crying over the phone, and we realized this letter, put into men's voices singing we thought would be a very powerful thing."

Lichte spent the next several weeks tracking down Melissa Givens, eventually sending her a letter and some of Cantus' seven studio CDs while asking for her blessing to create the song. "Jesse was a big music lover," Melissa Givens said in a telephone interview. "I ran this idea by his mom, because I wasn't really sure, and she was so thrilled that somebody wanted to honor him like this given his love for music. Looking at it from her perspective, there was no way I could say no." Along with performing "Private First Class Jesse Givens" at their anniversary shows this weekend, Cantus will do a special performance for Melissa Givens in person at the Intercollegiate Male Choir Convention in Eau Claire, Wis., on March 18.

Posted by acapnews at March 14, 2006 12:05 AM