Choir blends reformation and Christmas themes for fall concert

Published 9:00 am Sunday, November 19, 2017

It may be November, but it’s almost Christmas time for Cantori.

The 37-voice mixed choir has been in the Albert Lea music scene since 1972. It has been under the direction of Eileen Nelson Ness since 1979, and the group puts on two concerts a year for the public: one in the fall and one in the spring.

While Ness said the fall concert is usually a kickoff to Christmas, Ness’s Lutheran background is also peeking through in the upcoming performance. Each of the pieces has a flavor of Martin Luther. Some of the pieces have Luther’s direct hand in them. Some of them are written by composers who lived around the same time. Some, like Felix Mendelssohn’s “Magnificat,” is Luther twice removed: The piece adapts Bach, who uses chorale tunes from the reformation period.

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“Some of these are pieces that I grew up with in my childhood,” Ness said.

Cantori baritone Paul Rehnke said the pieces for the fall concert are a mix between classical and seasonal. It is advent in theme, but reformation in origin.

“I try to, you know, sort of make a musical storyline out of it,” Ness said.

Ness also tries to pick songs that push the group.

“I try to challenge the group for every concert that we do … to broaden their knowledge of choral music,” Ness said.

Cantori tenor Dennis Johnson has been singing with Cantori for the 46 years the choir has existed, and he notices the gauntlet Ness lays for the choir.

“It’s very challenging when we first start, but it’s very rewarding once we finish,” Johnson said.

In addition, the choir helps members stay vocally sharp. Rehnke said this is part of the reason he has been singing with Cantori since the early 80s.

“Singing in Cantori has allowed me to keep my voice,” he said.

And according to Rehnke, this year that voice has been melding well.

“We’re really learning to blend and to listen to each other,” he said.

Cantori director Eileen Nelson Ness leads the choir in preparation for their upcoming concert. Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

This year the choir has five new voices, and they are younger than some of the others. Rehnke said that has been really helpful for the choir, and that Ness has a talent for choosing music around what voices are available. While the choir is typically short men, this season that is not the case.

“If you can find stronger men, you can do a lot more,” Rehnke said of the choir’s choral capacity.

In this way, some of the choir’s work is about the music. But in other ways, it’s about something else entirely.

“I think music moves people,” Ness said.

She said people who attend the concert might feel a sense of renewal in their lives.

In addition, Ness said the choir brings a sense of community to its members.

“It’s the feeling of doing something jointly and making the music together,” Ness said.

The fall Cantori concert is scheduled for 3 p.m. November 19 at the United Methodist Church.

Tickets, please

Who: Cantori Choir

What: fall concert

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: United Methodist Church

How much: the concert is free to attend, and there will be a free will offering taken at the event

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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