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Matthew Tintes is enjoying his role as a member of the classically-trained, touring male vocal ensemble Cantus. Submitted photo.

Tintes living his musical dream singing with Cantus

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Singing baritone with the nationally renowned musical group Cantus is a dream come true for Matthew Tintes.

The reality of it has also evolved into a life-altering experience, so much so, Tintes can see himself in the role "for a number of years," describing it as "a full-time position with benefits, not to mention the most fun job I've ever had!"

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Cantus, which is Latin for 'melody,' is a classically-trained, touring male vocal ensemble based out of Minneapolis, which provides entertainment to a variety of diverse and accepting audiences all over the United States and other countries, as well as educational outreach throughout the state of Minnesota through their artist-in-residence program, in addition to working with students all over the country.

The group has gained great notoriety since its inception in 1995 when four St. Olaf's College students in Northfield, Minn., decided to band together professionally to promote and share their singing and performing expertise, a move that quickly resulted in widespread acceptance, and well-deserved respect and recognition throughout the music industry.

Since those fledgling days, the chemistry of the group has changed, growing in stature from four to the present nine members, and expanding into a full-time, nonprofit organization thriving mostly thanks to the success of concerts, tours and CD sales.

Always a constant has been their popularity, which has now flourished to the 'highly acclaimed' status - with Cantus just recently earning the distinction of being named "the premier men's vocal ensemble in the United States" by "Fanfare" Magazine, as well as being honored as the 2009 recipient of Chorus America's Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence.

Members of the group include: Chris Foss, Eric Hopkins Ellingsen, Aaron Humble, Adam Reinwald, Paul Rudoi, Gary Ruschman, Shahzore Shah, Timothy Takach, and Tintes, the 'new kid on the block,' on board since last August.

A 1998 graduate of West Fargo High School, Tintes earned his undergraduate degree from NDSU in May of 2004. He taught junior high and high school music in North Dakota for a couple of years before going on to earn his masters degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, all the while striving to become a professional singer and performer. During his time at the U of W, he had lead roles performing and touring in opera productions and sang with the Madison Bach Musicians. Following graduation, Tintes taught at Beloit College, (as well as in private studio) and toured with "Opera for the Young" at schools throughout the upper Midwest. 

He auditioned for Cantus last spring, and moved to Minneapolis in August to begin performing with the group after getting the call there was an opening because one of the singers was leaving to pursue a master's degree. "It's a very special thing to be chosen," Tintes said. "It involves a selection and audition process, and there is no guarantee a spot will be open, which makes it all the more amazing when you get that call that you're in."

Now with a half of year in Cantus to his credit, Tintes "is really glad to be a part of it" and is thrilled to work each day with musicians of such high caliber. "The teaching and performing feeds all the different things I really like about music. On that note, it is fulfilling for me on a lot of levels."

The group starts rehearsal for each new performance year in August, with the touring wrapping up in May. The season echoes the school year because of the close association the group maintains working with local educational systems.

During the summer, Cantus is engaged in festival work and learning music for the next year. Their only breaks are a couple of weeks off around the Christmas holiday and during the summer.

Tintes said the group recently changed their management structure, allowing the nine singers more leverage and control in coupling their creative abilities with their musical talent.

"Now everything you see and hear is designed and figured out by the people on stage," Tintes said. "We are a self-directed group. When we produce a piece, we open everything up to a democratic process. Everybody has a say in how we get there, so we can be proud of the final product because we all had a part in it. This is kind of unique in that it gives us a bigger buy-in and bigger stake in what we ultimately perform."

As a result, Tintes is not only enjoying his work but enjoying the people he works with. "They are the kind of people I would be friends with if I didn't perform with them."

Tintes is also quick to point out that throughout his journey with Cantus, the support of friends, family and special mentors have been key to his motivation and success, including his mother and stepfather, Mary C. Tintes and Tony Eiter, of West Fargo, his father Phil Tintes, of West Fargo, and his sister, Emily, of Fargo.

"Several people, especially my mother, have been incredibly supportive of my career endeavors," Tintes said. "That is really saying something, as people who have full-time employment as classical singers are few and far between, in general, not to mention how many (or how few) have come out of West Fargo. I would say, however, that having a family that is really there for you and believes in you is what made it "okay" for me to attempt the career that I have. I enjoy teaching quite a lot, but I knew that I would not be satisfied until I have given the "performing thing" my best shot. And when you already have a job teaching voice at the college level, taking the chance of giving that up to pursue a performing career is an unnerving decision. Thankfully, for me, it's all worked out so far."

Tintes also had the opportunity to have another very special family member at an October performance in Fergus Falls in early October. His grandmother, Bernice Cramer, who had just days before turned 97 years old was able to take in that show. "That meant a lot to both of us, as she had not been able to attend a performance of mine for a number of years (mostly due to the fact that my performances had all been too far away for her to make the trip). In fact, she got a round of applause all her own that night."

In addition to the encouragement of family, Tintes said he has been fortunate to have excellent instructors to help show him the way.

"I grew up just outside of Mapleton, N.D., and even though many of our music teachers didn't stay for too many years, we consistently had great ones. I cannot say enough about the wonderful music departments at West Fargo Middle School and High School. I learned so very much from those teachers, many of whom are still there today."

Over the Christmas season, Cantus performed the critically-acclaimed "All is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914" along with Theater Latte Da at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis as well as several other venues across the country, telling the true story of soldiers away from home, fighting in the trenches in Northern France during WWI. The heart of the production was a German soldier, singing "Silent Night," beginning a chain of events that led to an amazing Christmas story of peace and brotherhood in wartime.  

It meant a great deal to Tintes to have his mother present for a Minneapolis performance that she described as "an amazing show with incredible music and acting."

Tintes said wherever they performed this production, the overall reaction was one of amazement. "Everywhere we took the show on tour (Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma) we were so happy to hear how touched the audiences were by the performance. There were so many wonderful stories that were shared with us, many from the children of men who served in WWI, and in some instances, children of men who participated in the actual Christmas Truce. One of the aspects of our performance deals with soccer matches played between opposing troops on the area between the trenches, a.k.a. "No Man's Land." We met a woman in San Louis Obispo, Calif. whose father was one of those soldiers!"

Cantus' present touring production is titled "Elemental" with the songs dealing with the four elements - earth, wind, fire and water - and those things that are 'elemental' to life, including love and family.

"When choosing songs to fit into that theme," Tintes said, "we programmed a wide variety of music in order to create a show that does everything from entertaining the audience with familiar folk songs and popular music songs, to challenging the audience with more classical, sophisticated musical fare."

Tintes admits the biggest daily obstacle becomes being able to maintain the energy to carry on. "One of the things that I used to teach when I taught private voice lessons was that performing music is an activity that, if done right, engages your entire body. Combine that with the fact that in order to do our job well, we need to do absolutely everything on stage 100% correctly no less than 98% of the time, and you can get pretty tired out. However, the fact that performing music in the capacity that we do is pretty much what we all most love to do, makes it easy to recover and move forward. I would wager that anyone who is lucky enough to do what they love for a living would argue that while work can be draining, it is also a wonderful thrill, and that thrill makes it all more than worthwhile."

In retrospect, Tintes said one of the main reasons he is a performer and teacher is that he feels it his duty to try and impart his enthusiasm for music to others. "To that end, getting to work with as many students as we do is wonderful, especially when you can see them 'getting it' and genuinely enjoying the learning process. I also greatly enjoy being able to bring our performances to smaller communities all over the country that maybe do not get the chance to hear good, live men's choral music. I just enjoy sharing what we do, be it with a teenager who might be inspired to follow in our career footsteps, or an adult who never thought they would enjoy what it is that we do and allowed us to broaden their horizons."

Unfortunately, the West Fargo, Fargo, Moorhead area will not be among any of those 'smaller community' performances for Cantus this season. However, Tintes said a visit to the area could be a real possibility during the 2010-2011 touring year.

For those of you who might be interested in taking in a truly special performance of Cantus at some other location outside the metro area, their schedule of appearances, along with some of their music and additional information about the group are featured on their Web site at

www.cantusonline.org.

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