Albert Lea Cantori to celebrate 50 years in spring concert

Published 8:51 pm Friday, April 14, 2023

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Music resonates every Monday evening from September to May from the choir loft at the United Methodist Church. This year the Albert Lea Cantori is celebrating 50 years of singing choral music. Their spring concert celebrating this milestone is set for 3 p.m. April 23 at the United Methodist Church of Albert Lea.

Cantori was organized in 1972 by Gene Janssen, then director of music at Grace Lutheran Church. He assembled a group of area singers and presented the first concert in 1973. Janssen directed the Cantori until 1979 when he moved to Minneapolis. Eileen Nelson Ness has been director of the choir since then.

Cantori’s repertoire includes music from the Renaissance era to contemporary music. The group has sung works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Faure, Schumann and other well-known classical music and throughout the years has also included more contemporary music by people such as Bernstein, PDQ Bach, Alice Parker, Benjamin Britten, Ola Gjeilo, Elaine Hagenberg, Matthew Culleton and more.

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Longtime choir member Carol Larson said “there is a strong feeling of pride in accomplishing difficult music. Eileen shares knowledge, skills and tips to improve my voice. It is like a weekly voice lesson.”

In the past, Cantori has commissioned works by Robert Tewes and Sebastian Moderelli, both area composers.

A new work, “I Love the Night” by Moderelli will be premiered at this spring’s concert with Rachel Christensen on harp and Rebekah Crissinger on violin. Other instumentalists will include Suzanne Mauer, Matt Lehman and Joan Vanderploeg.

When the Cantori began, they presented a concert in the spring of each year. Since 2006, the popular “Singing in the Season” concert in November ushering in the Advent and Christmas season was added.

The Cantori is not all about serious music, however.

Who could forget “The Seasonings” by PDQ Bach, “T’was the Night before Christmas,” the “Pie Carols” of Daniel Gawthrop or “Mosquitos” by Stephan Chapman? Cantori has also presented songs Broadway including “West Side Story” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Over the years Cantori has also participated with Fourth of July concerts and PipeScream concerts at the United Methodist Church. They have also sung concerts in Emmons, Alden, Owatonna, Rochester and Lake Mills.

While some singers have sung only a year or two, many have sung for 10 or more years.

Sue Jorgensen, the last charter member still singing in Cantori, said, “It has been wonderful and a privilege to be a part of this excellent musical organization for 50 years. The ability to contribute to and benefit from the challenge and rewards of rehearsals and concerts has enhanced all aspects of my life.”

Singers have come not only from Albert Lea but also from Lake Mills, Blue Earth, Kiester, Walters, Hayward, Austin, Northwood, Hartland and Wells. There have been over 250 singers during the last 50 years.

While concerts culminate each season, it is friendship and the process of making music, phrasing the lines, singing the text and singing as one unit rather than individual solo voices that keeps people coming back. Long time soprano Barb Rehmke said she enjoys “keeping her singing voice in condition, the community involvement and team building.”

Music moves the spirit from the singer to the listener. Everyone has a favorite song that initiates an emotion: happiness, joy, love, sadness, peace and so on. Cantori works hard to bring emotions and meaning to the audience through their singing.

“We work on each song long enough and carefully enough that we perfect them really well before each concert,” said board Chairman Glen Parsons. “I love the final product and feel proud of the effort we’ve put into each concert.”

Nelson Ness, director of the Cantori, said she “loves the magic of music. It can transport us to a different time or place, it stirs up feelings in the soul and inspires our minds. Music is powerful — it brings people together to find joy, love, and a deeper meaning to life.”

The concert on April 23 is free and open to all. Charter members and past singers will be recognized. A reception will follow the concert in the fellowship hall at the Methodist church.