Ross’ Kantorei sing here; next stop—New Zealand

Ross’ Kantorei sing here; next stop—New Zealand

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

The month of May means many things to different people, but one thing that always characterizes it is the plethora of graduations, honors programs, final exams, and final pertormances as we see familiar faces, especially young faces, move on to their next level, and we cheer them on as they claim credit for their progress.

So, on Sunday night, May 18, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the renowned Kantorei: The Singing Boys of Rockford, presented their annual Spring Concert to share with a full house of family, friends, and completely unrelated long-time fans their new sounds of this year, and some of the repertoire that the Performing Choir (46 singers) will take with them on their New Zealand adventure June 11 through 26.

The program Sunday night, of course, included all the singers, so some segments gave the three youngest groups—Choristers, Cadet and Lyric—the chance to charm us with the incomparable treble tones that are found only in the young males of the species. Some of the boys, as young as seven, can draw their goals from hearing the seniors who have been with the group a full 10 years (one even sported a brave beginner’s beard!), and set their sights for joining that group that gets to travel far and wide each summer. Indeed, at some moments that focused on the seniors, the sounds recollected fine college glee clubs that live on in my own memories.

As the different classes marched on and off the risers, it was sometimes hard to keep track of which groups were up there, but the sounds were always the well-trained and musically distinctive tones that we expect from Music Director Joel Ross and his troops. Leah Baskin, an expert on choral training, now organizing a children’s choir up at Rock Valley College, went on at length Monday evening about the complete vocal preparation that Ross had given his young charges over the years, so that the seniors still know how to slide up into the higher ranges when required, and yet have had their lower ranges clarified for such a quality performance.

The program, as usual, spanned the gamut of choral music, going from Mozart to Gershwin, from Bach to Bernstein. However, everyone will come home with their own favorite moments to carry in their heads mine include the Zulu folk song Jabula Jesu (arranged by the Canadian Stephen Hatfield), which worked with complex polyrhythms and layered ostinatos (underscored by African drums played by Chris Bayer) to express a native joy at sharing good times with their own image of Jesus.

Another moment, of course, was George Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good,” in Ross’ own arrangement, which gave us a taste of one of his own other personas, the nightclub jazz pianist, with plucking bass support (Noah Wilke) and a moment when one of his young men even came forward to add some solo scat to the ensemble.

Anyone familiar with the challenges of ensemble singing has to have been impressed at the clarity with which the choir handled the layered dissonances in the Charles Ives (a cappella!) and the Javier Busto Salve Regina. In offering his Kantorei group to an international audience on its travels, Ross does not dodge the difficulties of a rich repertoire, but somehow casts the magic spell on his boys so that they rise to the challenge, and hopefully carry their musical dedication with them as a blessingand gift for the rest of their lives. Ross personally introducted each of the seniors who will now leave the group for college, as their parents came forth to give them their awards.

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