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A cappella group Clerestory singing its way into Lodi

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Posted: Saturday, October 3, 2009 12:00 am

On Oct. 4, the eight-man classical a cappella ensemble, Clerestory, will perform at St. John's Church. Jesse Antin, Clerestory member, talks about the meaning behind the groups name, his inspirations, roasting his own coffee beans and his favorite places to get outdoors.

Q: What does the name "Clerestory" mean?

A: We got the name Clerestory from a beautiful architectural feature of cathedrals, the clear windows near the top of the church (above the stained glass windows) that let light in. We think it evokes the kind of serene and brilliant music that we sing, as well as the idea of clarity. We also think there's a kind of symbolic parallel between letting daylight in and the illumination that music brings into our lives. Finally, we like the play on words of "clear story" — which is exactly how you pronounce the word Clerestory — in that our group tries to tell the clear story of the music we sing. We do our own scholarship and write our own program notes, and our research and experience inform our performances.

Q: Have you ever performed in Lodi? What will you do while you're here?

A: No, I don't think any of the eight of us have sung in Lodi before. We know the church and its arts series have a great reputation, and I hope a nice audience will turn out to support them. It's important for every city and town to have an active, engaged cultural community. I like the idea that Lodi brings in artists from elsewhere, including from the Bay Area — where Clerestory is from — since there are so many wonderful groups that are happy to make the short trip. Before we head back home after the matinee concert I hope we'll have time to see Lodi a bit — maybe drive through a winery or two, since, of course, wine and music pair so well!

Q: Who would you like to perform with that you haven't?

A: Clerestory is a fairly new group, and we are only just beginning our fourth season. We perform a cappella — that is, with singers only — but we would like to collaborate with some instrumentalists over the next year or two. Maybe a string quartet, or an early music group, or even a jazz trio if the project was right. As for other singers, all of us in Clerestory are former members of the well-known Grammy-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer.

Q: Who are your musical inspirations?

A: My five years singing with Chanticleer taught me most of what I needed to know to make Clerestory successful, and I think that's true for the other Clerestory singers also. That experience was inspiring in and of itself — the chance to travel and sing for people who really love the sound of voices, perfectly tuned and refined. This is what we've tried to carry on with Clerestory, but on a local scale. Whereas Chanticleer is very much a national group now, Clerestory would like to serve our fans, friends, and neighbors in California, where all of us have made our home.

Q: What are the top three songs on your iPod (or top three favorite songs right now)?

A: It would surprise most people know how diverse the musical tastes of classical singers are. Probably the three songs I've listened to most in the past week are a piece of early choral music which is in fact my "favorite" for Clerestory's "Favorites" program; a pop song by the New York singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, who I am seeing play live in Oakland next month; and the best song on a new album by the rock band Grizzly Bear called "Two Weeks."

Clerestory at the Arts at St. John's

Where: St. John's Episcopal Church, 1055 S. Lower Sacramento Road.
When: Oct. 4 at 4 p.m.
Tickets: $20.
Information: 369-3381,,

Q: What's your biggest musical challenge?

A: Definitely finding enough time to rehearse, with the busy schedules of eight people. Once upon a time when we were in Chanticleer, we rehearsed every day with no need for other jobs. Now, we each have other occupations — some as music teachers, some as vocal soloists, some with ordinary day jobs — which make coordinating schedules difficult. Luckily, our Chanticleer experience taught us much of what we needed to know to sing music at the very highest level, and we're able to combine our experience and artistry in an efficient way now.

Q: You're a bike racer for the Berkeley Bicycle Club team and a Sierra backpacker. Where are your favorite outdoor spots?

A: I have so many, but one that comes to mind is Mount Diablo. Mount Diablo is the largest mountain in the East Bay, and from its 4,000-foot peak (which you can drive to, or ride your bike if you're ambitious) you can see more of the Earth's surface than any other place on the planet except for Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. On a clear day you can see across the Central Valley to the snow-capped mountains of the High Sierra. Diablo is also a state park where you can camp and hike. I do a bike race every year from the base to the summit of the mountain. I actually find I can sing better after a long bike ride, I think because my lungs increase their capacity a little with the deep breathing.

Q: You have an interesting diet of vegetarian carbs and beer. Can you tell me about that?

A: Well, that's not all I eat, but my wife and I have found it fun to make as much of our food at home as possible. We buy fresh food from local farms and set aside time to cook it together at home. We both feel very healthy and energetic, and it's a nice way to be together during a busy week. I've also started roasting my own coffee beans — it's cheap and easy and Oakland is a major port for raw coffee beans. I think that having a healthy lifestyle helps a great deal in being a musician, which is physically and mentally demanding and requires consistent focus, sometimes late into the evening. It also helps that I never get sick! As for the home brewing, which is one of my favorite hobbies, there's nothing like coming home after a concert and having a delicious ale that I made myself.

Q: What's something you're looking forward to in October?

Our concerts in October, in Lodi and also in Palo Alto, will be the first time that Clerestory has performed a program more than twice — we sang "Our Favorite Things" in our usual home of San Francisco and Berkeley in September. Those concerts went great and the audiences seemed to love them, and I expect us to sound even better in October. Concerts — like wine, and like even musicians themselves — get better with age.



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