Blended Voices

Choir students at East Ridge High School will collaborate with local professional choir Cantus for their 2018-2019 season.

If walls could talk, the walls of a high school would talk mostly of dreams. Every weekday the halls and classrooms flutter with possibilities, and for a group of students at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, one of these possibilities might start to feel more like reality.

East Ridge High School choir director Elizabeth Gullick believes in collaboration—the blending of different ages, worldviews and experiences to create something beautiful. Because of this, when Gullick saw the chance for her students to collaborate with Cantus—a professional, traveling, all-male vocal ensemble—she jumped at it.

The Cantus High School Residency Program is part of Cantus’ educational outreach. Each year, three Twin Cities area high schools are selected after an application process, and this year Woodbury’s very own East Ridge was among those chosen. Gullick believes this will be a life-changing experience for her students. “The more I can expose my students to in terms of working with other professional musicians— including performers, composers and directors—the better musicians, artists and humans they become,” she says. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, ERHS, along with Minneapolis Southwest High School and Monticello High School, will collaborate with the professional musicians of Cantus. According to Gullick, this program will help her students as well as the larger school community to envision vocal performance as a possible career path.

The program will include three master classes throughout the year as well as an in-school concert. The chosen choir and Cantus also come together for Festival Day, where the groups rehearse material for the final concert. “Cantus is a fully professional vocal ensemble of tenors, baritones and basses. Fully professional meaning that this is their full-time job, to sing in this choir. They are based right here in the Twin Cities,” says Gullick. (The other professional choir, Chanticleer, is based in San Francisco.)

And the ensemble has more than just its knowledge of music to share with young minds. The members of Cantus regularly travel all over the world, experiencing different cultures—from performances in Asia to the flashing neon light of Las Vegas. By collaborating with Cantus, the worlds of these students will grow significantly larger.  

The beauty of collaboration is that it’s never a single side that reaps the benefits. Cantus education outreach coordinator Sam Green explains that the members of Cantus learn from working with the students as well. “The students are so perceptive. They know when they do something amazing! It is also encouraging how many of these young people have the heart for music and building community,” Green says.

The students also bring an impressive willingness to learn and an appetite for knowledge. “For me, it is exhilarating to give the students an idea and see them run with it,” says Green. “There's that special 'light bulb' moment, where you know a new concept just made sense to them. It's fun when you're working with a choir, and after one comment, you hear an immediate difference.”

Gullick also finds inspiration while working with her students—watching them grow and follow their dreams. “I love getting to spend my days with such amazing people. They are passionate, caring, hardworking young adults, and they inspire me every day. They are the future, and from where I’m sitting, the future is bright,” she says.