“People say the most striking thing about hearing us for the first time is that we sing the full range of mixed choir from soprano to bass,” says Matt Oltman, Chanticleer’s music director as well as one of its three tenors. “We have six countertenors, male singers using their head voice and upper range, who take the soprano and alto parts, so the sound we’re able to achieve is much more homogenous than a mixed choir of men and women. Imagine instead of the different instruments in an orchestra, you had an orchestra of all viols or all flutes or saxophones. It’s a beautifully harmonious sound, a transcendent sound that gets right inside you.
“There are distinct differences between men’s voices and women’s voices,” Oltman explains, “and a unique homogeneity of sound in using all men. Many people might have heard all-male choirs before—glee clubs or barbershop quartets—but this is bigger than that. With countertenors that can hit C above the staff and basses that can go to A below the staff, we can sing pretty much anything a mixed choir can sing.”
The second question is “What are they singing?” “It’s a program of music entirely from North America,” continues Oltman, “so as you can imagine, there’s great diversity. We’ve got pieces that sound very European from Mexico from before the Revolution plus some of the best of today’s best and brightest composers, including Native Americans, jazz, and gospel.”