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Music of Cantarte Choir floats above the eyebrows

If you happen to wander into Cook Arts Center on a Tuesday evening, follow the mellifluous voices of Cantarte practicing its repertoire in the basement. Cantarte is a Spanish language choral group.
Margi Derks Peterson and Jennifer Velasco

Margi Derks Peterson and Jennifer Velasco /Gregory Grutman

Underwriting support from:
Julio Cano Villalobos and Margi Derks Peterson

Julio Cano Villalobos and Margi Derks Peterson /Lindsay McHolme

*Leer este artículo en español  | Read this article in Spanish

If you happen to wander into Cook Arts Center (644 Grandville SW) on a Tuesday evening, follow the mellifluous voices of Cantarte practicing its repertoire in the basement.

Cantarte is a Spanish language choral group formed from a free community class that is open to anyone 16 years or older. Margi Derks Peterson, voice instructor and director of the Fountain Street Church Choir, conducts the practices every week.

Peterson begins each practice with a warm-up, leading the choir through jaw and mouth exercises, from singing the vowel sounds to humming scales in different keys.

“Now let it float up over your eyebrows,” Peterson described to the choir.

In addition to warm-up exercises and typical agenda items, she walked newcomers through the fundamentals of correct posture.

“What I do with these guys is part voice lessons, part choir,” said Peterson. “The center sees it as a class. I see it as a performance group.”

Cantarte was founded by Julio Cano Villalobos, lead singer and songwriter for local band Cabildo. He came up with the idea in September 2010 when he and a few others realized there were no current opportunities in Grand Rapids to sing in a Spanish language community choir.

“I grew up in Chile and choirs are popular down there,” said Cano, who has a melodious voice. “There's a long tradition, so we were thinking there was a market for people [in Grand Rapids] who liked to sing in Spanish, whether they were native [Spanish speakers] or they wanted to learn the language.”

The choir’s repertoire is based on traditional Latin-American folk songs like “Las mañanitas" ("The Mornings"), a Mexican birthday song, and “De colores" ("All the Colors") - a song about springtime - all of which are typical in repertoires for Latin-American community choirs.

The majority of the members hail from Chile, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Members are not required to speak Spanish and can join as long as they feel comfortable singing in Spanish.

Saxophonist Jonathan Mikulich, a native Michigander of Mexican and Eastern European decent, joined Cantarte to round out his musicianship by learning to sing.

“Margi is very good about teaching embouchure, the formation a singer has to make with his or her mouth and throat to achieve a better sound,” said Mikulich.  “For anybody that wants to express themselves musically or wants to learn Spanish, I think Cantarte would provide that opportunity.”

Peterson and Cano hope to expand the choir in the future, adding new members and performing in the public more often.

“It’s a community group, so it can include a lot more people than we already have,” said Peterson. “We would welcome newcomers anytime.”

Cantarte performed its first recital at the Cook Arts Center last Christmas and is looking forward to its second recital at the end of the current 12-week class. The choral group also plans to perform at Fountain Street Church on May 1 and at the Festival of the Arts, of which details are forthcoming.

Anyone interested in learning more about Cantarte can contact the Cook Arts Center at 742-0692.

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I am so excited to see an article in Spanish on The Rapidian.