Artist Blog: What Cantus Means To Me

Timothy C. Takach

How many years did you sing with Cantus and what have you been up to since?

I sang with Cantus for 17 years, from 1996-2013. When I left the group I quickly transitioned into a career as a composer, and that’s been my full time job ever since. Singing is still important to me, so I regularly find time to perform and record with other professional ensembles around the country: the MN Bach Society and VocalEssence locally, True Concord (Tucson, AZ) and Seraphic Fire (Miami, FL). I have also started conducting, mostly for honor choirs and festivals, but I also conduct the Chamber Singers out of the Colonial Church of Edina.

When did you first hear about Cantus?

In the summer before my first year at St. Olaf, Lance Wiliford called me up and asked if I’d be interested in singing bass with a new vocal group on campus. They had just gotten started and were looking for another bass. My answer was, “Of course!”

Through the 25 years of Cantus existence, what has remained the same?

The democratic style of work has always felt like a meeting of the minds to me. Very few major decisions were made without everyone in the group sitting down together to talk it through. I love the sense that the singers are there for the same reasons, that they’ll all work hard to make the group succeed. 

What has changed?

In the first year as a professional ensemble we had 12 singers, so obviously that number has changed. We also worked very hard to shape the democratic process to favor efficiency and an equal distribution of labor. There were many different iterations that we tried along the way.  

What’s your favorite performance memory?

There are so many moments, but I remember a particularly moving performance in Iowa for their state ACDA conference. It was a packed room of choral musicians, and they absolutely loved what we created on stage. It was early on in the group’s professional history, and it was one more moment that convinced us that we were doing something good.

What are most proud of when you think back on your tenure with Cantus?

Off the cuff I’d say that I was most proud of our decision to take the risk and turn this from a student-led ensemble into a career destination for tenor and bass singers. But I think the truth is that we were all so young, none of us knew any better! I’m really proud of what the ensemble has added to the choral world – the recordings, the live concerts that people will still tell me about years later – but I think I’m most proud that we created role models for young tenor and bass singers. In the recent past, I’ve had a number of young music educators and singers approach me to say that seeing Cantus perform when they were in high school was a turning point in their lives, a moment that allowed them to choose music as a lifelong passion. I’m proud that we made something that can change people’s lives in such a meaningful way.

What makes Cantus unique?

Cantus is one of only a few companies in the US that offer full-time, salaried positions of employment for singers, with benefits.

Why is Cantus important?

Cantus has always had a unique way of telling stories from the stage, and it’s such a different model than many other vocal ensembles. I think what Cantus offers in our concert programs allows people to have better access to the music, the texts and the narrative of the performance.

Why is it important to support the arts and why Cantus in particular?

Art allows us the chance to look deeper into ourselves and deeper into humanity. The combination of music and text is an amazing vehicle for storytelling and for introspection. For me, I’m changed as a person because of music, and because of choral music specifically. I support the arts and Cantus because I need it in my life and because I hope that by helping it succeed it will affect others’ lives as well.

What would you like to say to Cantus fans and donors?

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support. Making music is fun in a closed room, and it’s even more fun when there are people who will show up to enjoy it, time and time again. I’m so glad that Cantus makes a musical product that people enjoy, and that they are moved enough to buy tickets and donate their time and money to help the group succeed. Since I’ve left the group, I get such a thrill when people come up to me raving about the most recent show. I still feel a sense of ownership of the ensemble, and when I talk about the group, I catch myself saying “we” more often than not. I don’t stop to correct myself anymore. I think Cantus belongs to all of us who have made it what it is today.

What is your biggest takeaway from your time with Cantus?

I believe that who I am as a musician and as a person has largely been influenced by my musical maturing at St. Olaf and in Cantus. I view my music making, singing and composing, as a service. I make art so I can give it to others. It’s true that I make my living by doing it, but that’s not WHY I’m doing it. Working in Cantus turned me into a collaborative person, through and through. I value the times when I get to work with others, learn from their experience and expertise, and make something that could only be created by having a specific group of people in the room. 1+1=3.