Press & Media

As we start our 30th year, here's a bit of Cantemus history, from a 2003 chorus newsletter…

Two Decades of Grand Sound, Yet Still Family

by Donna Gale, Soprano | Print

In honor of Cantemus’ imminent 20th anniversary, we asked Donna Gale, a founding member and Board President for the chorus’ entire first decade, to recollect the group’s beginnings and milestones.


Cantemus was the brainchild of a very talented young man from Salem, Edward Lundergan, whom I met when we both were singing with the Paul Madore Chorale. He was at a crossroads in his music career, and we often talked about his dream to start a select chamber choir dedicated to exploring the literature written for the smaller chorus. I had been singing in choirs most of my life, and my most rewarding experience was singing in a chamber chorus in college. So, I offered to help him with the organization needed to turn the dream into a reality.


We started by sending letters to everyone that we thought might be interested. Over 50 letters went out inviting singers to audition and, from those that auditioned, we selected the first 12 members. We operated on a shoestring budget. Our only income was each member’s $100 dues, which covered Ed’s salary as director and accompanist. The Unitarian Church in Danvers gave us rehearsal space, in exchange for providing music for two services per year.


The first concert took place in the fall of 1983. We sang as part of an evening service at the church – mostly madrigals. We were so small back then that if a few singers were absent, it was almost impossible to conduct a rehearsal. We were fragile and the lack of numbers made performing “iffy.”

Gradually the chorus grew to 16 singers. During our second season (’84-’85), we won a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Arts Council that enabled us to hire an orchestra for our spring concert, which included Mozart’s Solemn Vespers.


Ed left us the end of our second year to study at the University of Michigan, telling me to keep Cantemus alive. He now teaches at the college level. Our next director was Robert Ruplenas, who hired Robert Littlefield, our accompanist, who has remained with us for 18 years. Robert Dean came next, followed by Michelle Montgomery.


Despite the challenges we experienced in the changes in musical direction, Cantemus stayed alive, our membership continued to grow, and we developed a following of loyal patrons. Each time we needed to find a new director we employed an exhaustive audition process, including interviews and ratings completed by each choir member. In 1993, one candidate took our breath away. Dr. John Hoffacker auditioned and led us in a rehearsal. We had never seen such energy! This man was on fire! Some of us worried that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. But we couldn’t ignore the fact that he had an excellent ear, caught every mistake, and easily communicated what he wanted from us. We chose him to be our next director, and enjoyed his outstanding musical leadership for 10 years.


Today Cantemus has grown to a maximum membership of 40 singers. But, as in the beginning, we are required to audition each year. The additional voices give us stability and the ability to perform more works. From the casual group we started as, we’ve grown to have an energetic and dedicated board of directors, and operate on a budget that far exceeds our humble beginnings. Our level of professionalism has grown considerably – we’re a tightly run, more involved group, and we have earned a respected position in the music community.

But what has kept me singing in Cantemus for 20 years is that I love singing in a chamber choir. With a small-sized choir, you really depend on each other – in a big choir it sometimes doesn’t matter if you’re there. But this is more like family. I think Dr. Lundergan would be proud of what we have become.

Editor's note: Gary Wood was Cantemus' Music Director from 2004 to 2011. After 20 years with the group, accompanist Robert Littlefield retired in 2004. Frances Burmeister served as accompanist from 2005 to 2011.

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