By Mary O’KEEFE
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Plato
On Monday night audiences at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church were treated to music that reached those secret places of the soul.
The Cantores Minores, a choir composed of men and boys from Warsaw, Poland, stood on the stage of the church and held the audience in the palms of their hands for over an hour.
Conductor Joseph A. Herter introduced the choir and the selections chosen for the evening’s performance that ranged from sacred to secular music. The boys and men’s eyes never left the conductor as their voices melded together into perfect chorus.
La Crescenta was one of the many performances scheduled for their twentieth anniversary tour. Other cities include Denver, St. Louis and New York. Their first performance was at Lake Arrowhead where they returned after the St. Luke’s performance.
St. Luke’s parishioner Diane Wilke Burch is the connection between this Polish choir and La Crescenta.
“She is a musician and has a relationship with the Polish Music Center at USC,” explained St. Luke’s Vicar Brian Jones. “They were looking for a venue.”
St. Luke’s opened its doors and invited the community to a free concert.
The choir performed in both Polish and English and was accompanied by Michael Oczko on piano and violin and Michal Osmycki, who has been a member of the Cantores Minores for 15 years.
The selections were flawless but the choir’s performance of Ave Maria by German composer Franz Biebl was a standout. It was as if the voices of the choir lifted the audience which then floated up and down as the singers expertly weaved their voices around this spiritual piece.
Though skilled, these men and boys are not considered professional musicians.
“These are volunteers,” explained Rev. Gene Preston.
Preston, now retired and living in Lake Arrowhead, met conductor Herter 10 years ago in Warsaw when the reverend became the intern pastor at the Warsaw International Church.Herter served as choirmaster.
Preston explained that members of the choir have “real” jobs in Poland and take time off to travel with the choir. Many have been with the group for years.
“They have to pay for their own flight [and expenses],” he said.
When they’re not touring the members practice once or twice a week in Poland. During the tour they are scheduled non-stop.
They had been traveling for 70 hours when they finally arrived at Lake Arrowhead days before the La Crescenta performance. They boarded the bus, rode to St. Luke’s and when the performance was over, got on their bus to head back to Lake Arrowhead where they showered, changed and traveled to Las Vegas.
The Vegas trip seemed to be the highlight, at least for choir members.
“I am looking forward to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon,” said member Jerry Smolarz. He added that the five-week tour was exciting. “We meet new people and go to new places.”
It is a little difficult to get bosses to agree to let their employee go for five weeks but most have members have been in the choir since they were young boys. It is a part of who they are and those who know them understand.
“It is a passion,” Smolarz said of his music.
Member Jacob Wojick, 22, works in real estate in Poland and has been with the group for 13 years. Jacob Caban, 22, is a student. Both said it can be difficult to leave their lives for so long, especially with no compensation, but the travel and music is worth every minute.
The Jacobs said their taste in music, when not performing, goes from classical to pop and rock.
“When we are at a party we will get together and sing. We don’t sing classical then,” Caban said.
One might think that after spending so much time together rehearsing and traveling on a bus members would have enough of each other, but Wojick said they often get together socially.
That camaraderie and professionalism is evident not only the way they conduct themselves during their performance but after as well.
“These men are very respectful,” Preston said.
The choir continues its Anniversary Tour, which is funded by music patrons and organizations, however it still must pay for the bus it travels in and other expenses. Anyone who would like to donate to the Cantores Minores can do so by sending donations to Polish Singers Alliance of America-District 7, c/o Helen Perkins, 4516 Tulane St., Dearborn Heights, MI 48125.