All right, you’ve got a 16-part song but only have 12 singers. Not a problem for Chanticleer, a worldfamous acappela group consisting of 12 men. Their music ranges from Gregorian chants of the Renaissance period to contemporary songs such as ‘A Boy and a Girl’ composed by Eric Whitacre.
As for languages, they sing all kinds. But most importantly, they sing so beautifully it will make your jaw drop and wonder if what you are hearing is humanly possible.
They have been called ‘America’s favorite choral ensemble’ by New Yorker magazine, praised for their ‘luxurious perfection’ by the Los Angeles Times and have even won a few Grammy Awards for their records ‘Colors of Love’ and ‘Lamentations and Praises.’
Having just finished their Christmas season with over 80 performances in 16 states across the United States, Chanticleer was back in Irvine for their 10th appearance at the Barclay Theatre on April 7. This time, their program was called ‘EarthSongs,’ as all the songs shared the central theme of the beauty and power of the Earth, and its influence on poets and composers throughout history.
Knowing how incredible they are, it was hard not to get excited about going to their concert. In the theater, the lights dimmed, signifying the start of the concert, and in walked 12 men of differing heights, builds and ethnicities.
They formed a semicircle, and started their first song on an invisible cue, without a conductor. It was like I was hit with beauty, as silly as that may sound. The tone was so pure it was like angels singing. Looking at their facial expressions and body language, I could tell that they were so involved in their music that it was hard not to be drawn into it myself. The song came alive, all the words describing the beauty of nature turned into pictures in my mind, and suddenly I was transported to that beautiful place as seen through the eyes of the composer centuries ago.
Looking at each singer individually, there were six sopranos and altos, three tenors and three bass singers. A guy singing soprano? I thought that was pretty strange, and after a while it was still the case. As far as highlights go, how about that 16-part song with only 12 guys? The song, ‘Past Life Melodies’ by Australian composer Sarah Hopkins, will really blow you away, even if you are hard to impress. So how exactly is it possible? Overtones. They create several pitches at the same time while each person is only singing one. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s even more difficult to do. I had only heard about it before, and on a recording of some other group, but this was something else. Not only was this song in 16 parts, it was also sustained for what seemed like three minutes.
During this time, there were no sudden breaks, no one took breaths that were noticeable and the vowel didn’t change a bit. It certainly was no easy feat. Even when you thought it was going to end, they just kept going. Many people in the audience were becoming more and more amazed. People turned and looked at one another with a fascinated expression as everyone’s eyes echoed each other’s question, ‘How long will they hold it for?’
Being great singers also involves a little acting as shown through the song ‘Le Chant des Oiseaux,’ which is French for ‘The Song of Birds.’ In this four-verse song, the 12 singers split into three groups. They sang the first verse together, but the next three verses were sung by the smaller groups of four.
Each verse told a story of its own, and the highlight of this song was when each of the four singers walked to the front and started acting the part of a bird. It had everyone cracking up. They had the big eyes, the sudden jerky head movements and, of course, they still continued to sing their parts perfectly.
As an encore after the unabated applause, Chanticleer sang the traditional American song ‘Shenandoah.’ Beautiful and peaceful, the song had completely enthralled the audience. At the end of the song, I, along with everyone else, was content.
It didn’t matter much what language the songs were sung. They were on a level so good it communicated not so much in words, but in feelings. It is commonly said that music brings people together. After this concert, I can wholeheartedly agree, because it did not matter what languages the audience knew, what ethnicities we were or what religion we followed. At the end of the night, we were all feeling the power of music and the peace it can bring.