It is like a homecoming of sorts for Morgan State University alumnus Cortez Mitchell, who sings alto in the famed men's vocal ensemble Chanticleer. Mitchell spoke with us exclusively about returning to the Washington, D. C. area in advance of the group's concert at St. John's Church in Georgetown this Sunday.
Where are you originally from and what was the role of your hometown in your musical upbringing?
"I was born and raised in Detroit, MI where I started singing in church and in my elementary school choir. Being in Detroit, I was exposed to lots of gospel. I loved R&B and my elementary school teacher Willard Hines took care of the exposure to classical music."
Choral singing was an important part of your musical training at Morgan State University. What are some of the elements of the mixed choir (men and women's voices) that prepared you so sing in an all male group such as Chanticleer and how did the opportunity to sing with Chanticleer come about?
"At Morgan, the choir was a hefty part of my musical training. It's an experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I learned to be aware, always be listening, versatility, and to sing from your heart. Oddly enough I didn't know about auditions for Chanticleer until my final year at Morgan when it was brought to my attention by a professor. I blindly sent in an audition CD, but there were no openings. It wasn't until 2007 that the stars aligned and there was an opening in the group and I was looking for work."
What is the usually the reaction that you get when you say that you sing alto in the ensemble or that you are a countertenor?
"Depending on who I'm talking to some people hear it in my speaking voice and aren't surprised, while others are baffled and need a definition."
What repertoire has been the most gratifying for you to sing with Chanticleer?
"It's hard to say what is most gratifying, but if I had to chose if say some of the early renaissance music of composers such as Gabrieli and Victoria. But I enjoy everything that we do, for the most part."
You have been with the group for several seasons. Do you ever get any opportunities to show off your solo voice and if so, are there any aspirations to do any other solo work alongside your ensemble singing?
I am currently in my 7th season with Chanticleer and I've been lucky enough to have at least a small solo each year. Due to our rigorous schedule, I don't do any solo singing outside the group. But if the opportunity arises to do works like Bach's St John Passion provided there is no scheduling conflict, I would be all over it!
What can we expect to hear on this Sunday's concert in Washington?
This Sunday's program will encompass a variety of styles from renaissance music to jazz and gospel. Some of my favorites are Victoria's "Regina Coeli" and Ravel's "Trois Chanson" in which I have a small solo.
When you are not singing, what is the next thing that you do most?
When I'm not singing, I'm sitting in front of the television watching TV shows like Grey's Anatomy, Walking Dead and Game of Thrones."
-The San Francisco-based, GRAMMY® award-winning ensemble Chanticleer will perform on the Georgetown Concert Series of St. John's Episcopal Church, Georgetown Sunday, May 4 at 5:00 p.m. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.