One by One: the Cantus Recording Project Page 3

"I think you can hear how much that sharpens us," Lichte said. "Sure we're friends, but we're all professional musicians and we're all extremely critical about how the group sounds. It takes trust to handle that level of criticism—you have to know that we can be critical of your performance without judging you. We're from Minnesota, but there's none of that Minnesota 'nice' happening, where everybody's all lovey-dovey to your face, but all bets are off when you leave the room. We have a unique situation and we're going to enjoy it as long as we have it."

Enjoy it? Thrived on it was more like it. By late evening of day one, the group had filled a noteboard with exhortatory slogans urging excellence and focus. By late evening of day two, they were performing shirtless with the slogans taped to their bared chests. On the third night, in the midst of recording "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?," I overheard Kelvin Chan asking, "Do we have to take our pants off to get this right?" It was such a male energy—equal parts competitive and supportive—and definitely without the crasser associations that phrase might normally bring to mind.

"I think that goes back to Lord of the Flies," said Lichte. "Remember, that was a bunch of choirboys stranded on that island! [laughter] Somehow the process became very tribalistic."

"Sort of like Survivor," chimed in Hanawalt, to more laughter. "We're all stuck in one place together..."

"And we can't vote anyone off the island!" Takach completed the thought.

She stepped away from me and she went through the fair,
And fondly I watched her move here and move there.
And then she went homeward with one star awake,
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.—"She Moved Through the Fair"

Somehow, after three marathon workdays—and a last-minute catch-all session that put John Atkinson on the road home mere hours in front of a major storm front—everything the group had prepared for the sessions was recorded. I'll leave it to John to describe his struggle to turn what he captured on tape into a record that actually represents the performances we heard in the hall—all I'll comment on is his success.

Through the art and the craft of engineering, Let Your Voice Be Heard does capture the exuberance and passion with which Cantus leavened these songs on those chilly days in March. It's a testament to hard work—both John's and the group's—and to the power of voices raised together. I've been listening to dubs of this music for months now, ranging from raw, unedited tracks to several versions of the final mix, and I have yet to tire of it.

Listeners have one heck of a musical journey ahead of them. From song to song and from musical culture to musical culture, Cantus will take them on a journey through love and celebration, through pain and struggle, to triumph and transcendence. The disc's 18 songs include the joyful yawp of the title track and the hushed wonder of "Were You There," the chilly foreboding of "She Moved Through the Fair," and the tonal clangor of "Shen Khar Venakhi." For all the modal and harmonic differences embodied by the songs, they speak universally of the unquenchable human spirit. Even at its saddest, there's an irresistible optimism to Let Your Voice Be Heard—and that's a reflection of Cantus at its molecular level.

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble...—"Were You There"

"All 12 of us are singer-conductors, and we want to change how choral music is made," said Erick Lichte. "We love choral music, but it could be so much better. It could be more appealing, more inclusive, more central to people's lives. We're only in our 20s and we're just starting to figure out what these things are, and we'll—hopefully—be able to bring them to the music we love and make other people love it the way we do. We know there's interest in choral music. America boasts a huge number of amateur singers."

"Yes," said Michael Hanawalt, "but there are so few professional choral ensembles. Even cities which have orchestras tend to lack professional choral ensembles—especially groups made up of full-time performers."

"Our goal is to increase the appeal of all sung music," said Tim Takach. "We don't divide it up into niches, such as Renaissance or Broadway or Americana. We try to sing across borders and sing honest music as well as we can. Our hope is that people will understand that and will catch on to the fact that singing is fun and beautiful and is serious music-making."

"And that's happening," added Hanawalt. "One of the most inspiring things for us is teaching clinics in schools. Kids nowadays are bombarded with popular music and rarely get much music education in the schools, so you'd think we wouldn't be able to connect, but they've proven to be incredibly enthusiastic about our kind of music, once they're exposed to it. They understand there really is something there—and that's the best endorsement of our mission we could hope for."—Wes Phillips