Christine Bullin, President & General Director
Jace Wittig, Interim Music Director
Over the years, Chanticleer founder Louis Botto was often asked if, at that first convening of singers around a dining room table in San Francisco he had any idea it would become what it is today. He would usually answer, "yes," with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye.
As a graduate student in musicology, Louis found it odd that much of the repertoire he was studying–vocal music of the medieval and Renaissance periods–was not being performed. He decided to form a group to sing this neglected repertoire, using only male voices, as was the tradition in most churches during the Renaissance. Louis turned to members of choirs in which he sang, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, asking if they might be interested in this endeavor.
Nine members were selected, including Louis (who sang tenor), and rehearsals began for their debut performance. One of the founding members, baritone Charlie Erikson, was in the midst of reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. To name the group, he suggested Chanticleer, the name of the "clear singing" rooster in The Nun's Priest's Tale. [Chaucer had actually borrowed the name from the ancient French tale, Renard the Fox; it is a combination of the French words chanter ("to sing") and clair ("clear").] Everyone approved this choice, and Chanticleer debuted on June 27, 1978 before a capacity audience at San Francisco's historic Old Mission Dolores. The program featured works by composers that would become staples of the ensemble's repertoire over the years: Byrd, Isaac, Ockeghem, Morales, Morley, Dufay, and Josquin. Buoyed by their success, they agreed to continue rehearsing with the goal of performing a new concert approximately every four months.