By Megan Egbert, Photography by Cy Gilbert and courtesy of Thinkstock
When I first reached out to Keith McCauley, Vice President of the Board of Directors for Cantus Youth Choirs, he excitedly told me about his recent trip to Disneyland, where he had taken 123 of his best singers on tour. Cantus was founded in 2010 by Erika McCauley, Keith’s wife, along family friend Melody Paskett and a small group of dedicated volunteers. Since then, Cantus has grown to serve over 250 singers in grades 4-12, representing over 30 Treasure Valley schools and filling seven different ensembles. The youth choirs have grown to both incredibly popular and successful, and Cantus anticipates continued growth for years to come.
Participating in Cantus means auditioning, weekly rehearsals, lots of at-home practice, performances, costumes, and—for some students—even a tour. It is a steep commitment for youth and their families, but isn’t without many advantages. Keith creates a unique culture by engaging students in a disciplined musical environment.
“We have created a community of excellence—a family of youth, directors, and parents that feel welcome and involved. We have a culture where people can take risks in a safe environment—where they can learn life skills through refining, honing, and perfecting music. It is fun, it is hard work, and it is a rewarding process,” explains McCauley.
The rewards span further than just musical progress, and the impact reaches farther than just the Treasure Valley. In 2014, the choir traveled to Salem, Oregon, and presented a benefit concert for a mother of four with terminal brain cancer. In collaboration with three other choral programs, they were able to raise $5,000 for her family. This year, inspired by Keith and Erika’s son Brock, the choir dedicated a concert to children with special needs. Cantus has a rich history of giving back, and helps distribute valuable lessons through their musical performances.
Being raised in the midst of music certainly isn’t new territory for Erika or Keith. The two met while involved with the internationally renowned BYU Singers, directed by Dr. Ronald Staheli. Erika has a master of arts in music education from Oregon State University, and has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She was twice nominated for “Music Educator of the Year,” and has a number of accolades for herself and for choirs that she has led. Keith was instrumental in the start and success of two collegiate male a cappella ensembles: Inside Out and Moose Butter. His extensive experience in theater, television, and radio has prepared him for all aspects of providing a music education program. Because the choirs have grown so rapidly in such a short amount of time, the McCauleys have welcomed two associate directors, Melody Paskett and Michelle Pedersen, to ensure the quality of their musical discipline doesn’t suffer.
Early registration for Cantus Youth Choirs is now open, and the discounted price ends on July 11th,2015. Regular registration is open until September 30th, 2015. Many singers who come to Cantus have never sung before, while others are experienced performers—at Cantus there is a place for everyone. For more information about the choir, visit their website at cantusyouthchoirs.com.