from the Santa Barbara NewsPress (December 16, 2005)
TOM JACOBS The Santa Barbara Quire of Voyces has two distinct groups of fans. There are the sophisticated listeners who enjoy the ensemble’s unique mix of Renaissance and contemporary classical music. And then there are the video gamers.
Nathan Kreitzer can explain. Several years back, the chamber choir performed and recorded an a cappella vocal arrangement of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” The composer adapted his best-known work into a setting of the “Agnus Dei” section of the Catholic Mass.
The CD somehow reached the creative staff of a video game company, which contacted Kreitzer, the choir’s founder and director. He agreed to rerecord it to their specifications. “It’s now heard in the video game ‘Home World,’ which is a space adventure,” he said. “The game starts up, and you hear the opening chords.”
Kreitzer’s reaction to this is, basically, bemusement. He was happy to make some money on the project, and happier still by the calls he started getting from gamers trying to find the group’s other recordings. But the experience did not change the 25-voice choir’s essential mission: to give world-class performances of engaging, enjoyable music that audiences are unlikely to hear elsewhere. That effort continues this weekend, when the group performs its annual “Mysteries of Christmas” concert 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the chapel of St. Anthony’s Seminary.
“I try to choose music that is interesting and challenging and fun,” Kreitzer said in a recent interview. “I think that’s why people stay, and why we get a steady audience.”
The a cappella choir performs both Renaissance and contemporary music, often on the same program. It exclusively sings sacred music, although Kreitzer’s definition of that term is fairly loose. “We’ve done stuff by Los Angeles composer Eric Whitacre that is spiritual in a very general sense,” he noted.
The son of a church organist, Kreitzer, 38, was born in Iowa but raised in the small California town of Porterville. “I grew up singing,” he recalled. “For fun, my family would get together around the piano and sing out of the Reader’s Digest songbook. At Thanksgiving, we would sing chorales.” He enrolled at Fresno State as a computer engineering major, but gradually realized he was having a lot more fun singing in college choirs than he was learning calculus. His junior year, he switched his emphasis, ultimately earning a degree in vocal performance. Looking for “a way to be surrounded by choral music,” he enrolled at UC Irvine, where he earned a master’s degree in choral conducting. Soon thereafter, in 1993, he moved to Santa Barbara with a former wife who was pursuing a doctorate at UCSB.
“I looked around for work for about six months,” he recalled. “There was nothing. I decided I had to do something, or I would wither away. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll start my own choir.’ I put an ad in the paper and put up fliers. I made it sound impossible to get in — and all these people showed up! I got some really incredible talent. Three members of that original group are still in the choir today.”
The first Quire of Voyces concert was in the Presidio Chapel in 1994. “I paid for everything myself,” Kreitzer said. “I think it cost me $1,000. That was my rent money! We were in the black by our second concert, and we have never gone under budget since. We started getting bigger audiences, and a steady stream of devout donors.”
Kreitzer joined the Santa Barbara City College music faculty part-time in 1994. In 1996, when he got a full-time position, he took the choir with him.
“We get no funding from the college — we have to raise all our own funds — but they help us out in a lot of different ways,” he said. “We get a rehearsal space, an accompanist and administrative support.” Part of Kreitzer’s salary as a teacher is used to pay him to conduct the group. “There’s a nice symbiotic relationship.”
The choir began a new relationship this fall, when it performed the Mozart Requiem with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in the First Presbyterian Church. “That looks like it will be an ongoing relationship,” he said. “I would like that. We’ve been wanting to collaborate with an instrumental group. We’re talking about doing the Bach B-minor Mass, which would be a huge ordeal. The last time it was done here was in the 1970s!”
The choir’s own concerts take place in the chapel of St. Anthony’s Seminary, which Kreitzer calls “the best place to sing within 100 miles of here. It’s all hard surfaces — stone and wood. It’s built like a small Gothic cathedral. It fits the music we do to a T. “You’ll freeze in there,” he warned, “but people bring blankets and pillows for the Christmas concerts. They have radiant heating in the floor, which they always tell me is on, but it never seems to matter at all.”
The main work on this weekend’s program is the “Missa Brevis,” by contemporary British composer Richard Rodney Bennett. A brand-new piece (written in 2004), it is “very British, with a French influence in some of the chords,” Kreitzer reported. “It’s beautiful music.”
Kreitzer will follow that up on March 18 and 19 with an intriguing program he calls “The Eclectic Mass.”
“(Veteran choral conductor) Dale Warland has done this for many years,” Kreitzer noted. “He takes movements from different masses and pieces them together. He creates a work out of movements by six different composers.”
So which composers will be represented in Kreitzer’s postmodern mass? “I’m still trying to decide,” he said. “We’ll probably hear movements from (Renaissance masters) William Byrd and Josquin Dupres. It’ll be mostly 20th-century, including the Sanctus from Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Chorus.” It will most likely conclude with Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” — albeit without the flashing lights and high-tech graphics of a video game. Chances are they will not be missed. If Kreitzer and his singers are doing their jobs, the audience should be transported to a different place by the sound alone. “Music is my communion (with the spiritual), more so than religion,” the conductor said. “It’s a way to reach a higher level of being — a way to tap into a better part of ourselves. I try to choose music that is interesting and challenging and fun. I think that’s why people stay, and why we get a steady audience.” …