Cantus brings its shimmering sound to Lipscomb

cantusWhat do the 12th-century composer Perotin, Edvard Grieg, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson all have in common? Why, their songs will all be performed at Cantus’ upcoming concert in Nashville, of course.

One of America’s premier men’s choruses, Cantus will appear at Lipscomb University’s Collins Alumni Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18. Their concert will cap off an all-day men’s choral festival that will feature some of Middle Tennessee’s finest high-school men’s choristers performing in workshops and master classes.

waltonCantus last performed in Nashville during the spring of 2005. One member of the audience for that performance was David Walton, then a senior at Lipscomb High School (now Lipscomb Academy). Walton had only recently started singing in chorus, and the Cantus performance had a lasting impact. He is now the ensemble’s newest tenor.

“This is my first time going out on tour with the group,” says Walton, 26. “And I’m thrilled to be coming back to Nashville to perform.”

Founded at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., in 1995, Cantus is one of only two professional men’s choruses in the United States. The other is the San Francisco-based Chanticleer. There are currently no professional women’s choruses.

“I think that’s definitely a niche that’s waiting to be filled,” says Aaron Humble, another one of Cantus’ tenors.

Like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Cantus performs without a conductor. The group, therefore, functions more or less like a string quartet, with each member of the ensemble having some input on the selection of repertoire and interpretation.

The group’s name (pronounced kahn-TOUS) is the Latin word that medieval monks used for melody. Naturally, Cantus’ singers can chant with the best of them, but early music makes up just a small part of this ensemble’s repertoire. They also sing 19th– and 20th-century art songs (they perform a mean Sibelius Finlandia), contemporary music, world music and pop.

Cantus’ concerts usually have a theme. Their Lipscomb program found its inspiration in the sayings of Sir Isaac Newton and is called “On the shoulders of giants.” Newton, of course, is infinitely quotable – such gems as, “we build too many walls and not enough bridges” is attributed to him.

It’s easy to imagine how U2’s “MLK” found its way onto Cantus’ program – the Civil Rights movement certainly stood on Dr. King’s broad shoulders. But you’ll have to attend Tuesday’s concert to learn how the Beatles’ “I want to hold your hand” fits in.

What Cantus tune is usually the audience favorite?

That would be “Badn Lat” by Edvard Grieg. It’s about a cat that leaves Denmark to escape the cold. Walton, a Nashville native, will likely be identifying with that cat this winter, since he now lives in Cantus’ home base of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. “We just had an awesome summer in Minnesota,” says Walton. “And this winter, well, that’s going to be interesting.”

If you go

Cantus performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 at Collins Alumni Auditorium on the campus of Lipscomb University. The concert is free. The group’s appearance is part of an all-day festival of men’s choruses at Lipscomb featuring top Middle Tennessee high school singers performing in rehearsals, workshops and master classes. Those events start at 9 a.m. Tuesday. For more information call Dr. Gary Wilson at (615) 966-5750 or email

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.