Bill Bullock is very pleased with Cantus Columbus. The only professional chorus in Columbus, the group has sold out almost every Christmas concert since it began in 2000.
“This year, we will do our regular routine of telling the story,” Bullock said. “We have never had mezzo soprano before and we have never had a guitarist before.”
“I don’t know much about this concert, as this is the first time I am doing it and I haven’t seen one in the past because I am usually gone when this concert takes place,” said Columbus State University guitar professor Andrew Zohn.
Bullock had asked Zohn years ago to perform. This year, Zohn was available.
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He will perform a piece by Manuel Ponce for guitar and keyboard with Janie Lee Bullock, a movement of the Boccherini string quartet with the Vega String Quartet, two pieces for guitar and choir, including “Away in a Manger” and “Villancico de Navidad” for solo guitar by Barrios.
“It is very good music,” Zohn said.
Tenor Frank Timmerman, the director of the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts in Mableton, has been a guest artist several times.
“It has been my pleasure to sing with Cantus Columbus,” Timmerman said. “Good choral singing is something that is very important to me, and it’s consistently the hallmark of every performance presented by Cantus Columbus. I clearly remember my first rehearsal with them. I was immediately impressed by a meticulous attention to detail. In addition to beautiful balance and blend, the group realizes the importance of text and pronunciation. The singers are consummate professionals who take the art of choral music very seriously.
“The group is led by the example of conductor Bill Bullock. He’s is one of the most organized and detail-oriented musicians I know. A great deal of planning and preparation goes into every program he prepares with Cantus Columbus. He holds the singers to high standards ... and they consistently meet those standards. Cantus Columbus is a tremendous asset to the vibrant arts community in Columbus.”
Debbie Anderson has been with Cantus Columbus since the very beginning.
“Cantus Columbus is about excellent music performed in an excellent way,” Anderson said.
She echoes Timmerman when she said, “Bill Bullock is one of best programmers of music I’ve ever worked with. The program is all about experiencing the story of Christmas. It also allows the audience to participate. In a way that’s exhilarating for the audience to sing those Christmas carols with us and the orchestra. I think people really enjoy doing that during the program.”
At the beginning of the concert, Bullock asks people not to applaud until the end of the performance.
“That creates a reverence about the evening that people can relate to,” Anderson said.
With fewer than 40 tickets left for Monday’s concert, Bullock is not worried about selling out once again.
One of the few Christmas concerts that did not sell out was in 2003, when then RiverCenter executive director James Baudoin wanted the concert in the Bill Heard Theatre. After performing in the big hall to less than a half-full theater, Bullock is glad to be back in Legacy Hall.
He’s considered doing the concert over two nights, but he said the 400 or so people who come would probably split the audience in two. Next year, though, while Cantus Columbus celebrates its 10th anniversary, he may present the Christmas concert on two nights.
This concert tells the Christmas story in four parts, following the blueprint set by the late Robert Shaw, the legendary conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
“I think the main thing is probably the connectiveness of the program,” Bullock said. “The audience enjoys the seriousness of the music and the emphasis of the music rather than the religious aspect. But we do follow the story very closely. This is not a drama. We have no narrator. On the other hand, people can stand up at the end and sing carols.”
Bullock said he thinks the audience likes the hear the chorus, then listen to a soloist, whether a singer or instrumentalist and then hear the chorus again.
“Our concerts have a very wide variety of compositions, instrumentation and soloists,” said Ed Biggs, who lives in LaGrange and sings in ensembles there. “Too many Christmas concerts perform the same things over and over, and in the same manner or style. We have gained a reputation and everyone knows that the Cantus Columbus Christmas concert will not be the same as they heard last year or the year before. This will be my sixth Cantus Christmas concert and I can count on one hand the number of selections we have performed more than once. During this time we’ve been accompanied by the Vega String Quartet, the Atlanta Symphony Brass, a chamber group from the Columbus Symphony and single piano. The audience loves the variety.”
Bullock usually has between 20-24 singers in Cantus Columbus. This year, there are 21 singers.
Besides Anderson, husband-and-wife, Gary and Carol Holloway, brother-and-sister, David and Pat Bonaker, Lucy Bowers, Nicole Ceccato, Mark Culpepper and Luis Díaz, have been with Cantus Columbus since its beginning.