Understanding the mystery of woman has been attempted by many a man, but few — if any — have successfully cracked the code.
Nonetheless, the ephemeral "She" continues to be celebrated and contemplated, as with the theme of Chanticleer's 2004-05 season tour.
The 12-voice male vocal ensemble chose "Women: Saintly and Otherwise" as the title of its program, because they celebrate woman in all her various forms, according to tenor Matthew Oltman. "All the songs have music or text that is either by women, for women or about women," Oltman said.
The program will begin with music about the most celebrated woman in music, the Virgin Mary, and then continue with madrigals and madrigal-inspired pieces. There will also be the music of Korean-American composer Jee Young Kim and a commissioned work by female American composer Augusta Read Thomas, setting the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
Chanticleer is gearing up for a rigorous tour schedule, Oltman said by phone from his home near San Francisco, and Utah is one of the first stops. "Honestly, returning to Utah is a highlight because it's been so long since we've been there, so we're very happy about that."
While in Utah, Oltman said that the group would also do a workshop at Utah State University and work with the Cathedral Choir at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. "It's very exciting there because I believe we're going to get to hear them sing, as well. Those sorts of interactions with students are always especially fun because there's lots of sharing."
Although the group is busy, Oltman said that life on the road is also rewarding. In the six years he has been with Chanticleer, he's visited all but three of the 50 states and many countries around the world.
The schedule is so packed that when the group was nominated for two Grammys for the 2002 album "Lamentations and Praises," it couldn't attend the ceremony due to a concert scheduled in Whitewater, Wis. (Chanticleer's music director Joseph Jennings accepted the award on the group's behalf.)
"The awards ceremony was actually going to be taking place during the concert," Oltman said. "So we decided that one of the singers would bring his cell phone on stage with him, set on vibrate. And if we won, then Joe would call." Oltman said that by the second half of the program, the group was so into the music that they had forgotten all about the Grammys. "It was kind of a surreal experience when, right in the middle of the song, Michael suddenly turns around and starts talking. I was like, 'What is going on?!' He answered his cell phone right on stage!
"After a couple of measures, we all stopped singing and Michael was still talking. And then he just turned around and held up the phone and shouted to the audience, 'We just won two Grammys!' "
Chanticleer's most recent album, "How Sweet the Sound," released in mid-September, is already doing well on the charts. "We had an amazing sales ranking on Amazon the first weekend, where it was the seventh most-purchased CD of all for two days — Saturday and Sunday. That was kind of exciting."
Oltman said the new album features gospel songs that have been arranged by Jennings — and one original piece by him. "Chanticleer has a tradition of singing gospel music, and that is something that Joe Jennings brought with him when he joined the group 12 years ago. He grew up in Augusta, Ga., and grew up in that musical culture, and luckily has a talent in being able to teach the style in a very authentic way."
Guest artist Bishop Yvette A. Flunder is also featured prominently on the CD. "(Flunder) is definitely a Bay area institution — both in the area of gospel singing, as well as in the world of philanthropy," said Oltman. "Her ministry at the Ark House and City of Refuge is one of the most charitable organizations in the city, helping homeless people, helping people afflicted with HIV and AIDS. . . . It made the entire project have more significance to be working with this great lady."
If you go
Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
How much: $15 donation
Also . . .
Where: Ellen Eccles Theater, Logan
When: Monday and Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $15 to $25