The world of Palestrina, Duffy and Dowland seems a long way from the life of a market research consultant, but Michael Erdman manages to combine his musical passion with his day job.
He is the founder and conductor of Cantemus, the a capella choir specializing in Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music that held its Christmas Concert at St. Aidan’s Church on Nov. 18.
Michael grew up with music. His mother was a music teacher. His grandfather was a Lutheran minister and the hymns he heard had a sombre sound. By the age of 12 he was the organist and choir master for the Elmira Lutheran Church, and the money he earned paid for more lessons.
As a student at the University of Toronto, he joined the Poculi Ludique Societas, a group that stages plays from the 1400s to the 1750s. There he was exposed to the sacred music of 16th century composer Palestrina and his contemporaries. This coincided with a revival of early music.
His favourite piece is Monteverdi’s Vespers because “it says something absolutely great a century before Bach and Handel, a time when I had thought nothing worthwhile musically existed. Monteverdi had a great choral sound enhanced by strange instruments such as sackbuts, dulcins and recorders.”
Although he moved to the Beach 20 years ago, his first job in Toronto was as organist and choirmaster at the late Bellefair United Church in the 1970s.
Four years ago he founded Cantemas (meaning Let’s Sing), a 16-voice choir based in the Beach. He has discovered a niche overlooked by larger groups that specialize in church music. Cantemus performs secular and saucy songs – happy tunes with a fast beat that have the audience toe-tapping, as well as madrigals, motets and sacred pieces. It has built an audience that likes its music to be fun and interesting, and are not necessarily purists. They won’t complain if a recorder plays the flute line. Often musicians specializing in renaissance instruments are invited to play for part of a concert.
His choir are ‘gifted amateurs’, who can learn a new repertoire in 10 weeks and can sight read the scores. The singers range in age from mid-20s to mid-60s. Some are drawn from St. Bartholomew’s Church, a third of them have a Hungarian connection and others are Beachers.
The group uses Michael’s other love, gardening, for fundraising by selling plants. (He is a past president of the Beach Garden Society.) At its Nov. 18 concert, Cantemus presented a cheque for $2,500 to the St. Bartholomew’s food bank.
Michael wishes he could pay his singers for all their work. He would like them to have a reputation for the quality of music they are producing, and one day be recognized in the same breath as other leading early music professional groups such as Tafelmusik.
Cantemus’ next performance will be in March with a program called The Virgin Queen, based on music from the time of Queen Elizabeth 1.
Stay tuned to upcoming issues for all the details.