Cantus Biography: Aaron Humble

November 11, 2010
Aaron Humble
Cantus tenor Aaron Humble.
Photo by Ann Marsden / Courtesy of Cantus

Join us as we get to know Classical MPR's 2010-11 Artists-in-Residence Cantus through a series of short bios. Here, we learn about Aaron Humble.

Tenor Aaron Humble is currently in his sixth season with Cantus. Originally from Kent, Ohio, Aaron's education background includes a BM from Millikin University and an MM and DM from Indiana University, all in vocal performance. Here, he shares his thoughts on his musical heroes, performance rituals and favorite memories with Cantus.

What is the best part of singing with Cantus?

Sing in harmony with only other voices has always been a favorite activity for me. The overtones you can achieve with men's voices can be incredible. With the amount of time we spend together, we really have the chance to craft our tone and our sound together and tap into those other-worldly overtones. Aside from the serious answer, it's also just really fun. Most days, something makes me really and truly laugh during my work day with Cantus--and that is a gift.

In your mind, what makes Cantus so special and/or unique?

I remember in college, my choral conductor used to always say, "Choral music is one of the few things that people really and truly do together as a team in our modern world." I think the hidden message was, "enjoy it now because you'll leave Millikin and go work in a world that doesn't treat people as equals." I'm lucky that I didn't have to leave that world. In Cantus every piece must come together as equals to make a unified whole. I genuinely love people--I draw my energy from being with others so it's a great match. I guess the short answer would be collaboration.

What is your best and/or funniest memory from a Cantus tour?

My best memory of tour was in Alaska. We did two run out concerts from Fairbanks in opposite directions. On the one night we were driving home and we stopped at a wayside by the road. It was late so nobody else was on the road. We turned off the van and the lights and stood outside to see the stars. We could see several planets (glowing so brightly they reflected in this little stream), we could see the northern lights, the Milky Way galaxy, and millions of stars. The depth and layers of the sky without light pollution was absolutely breathtaking. In Cantus we share musical moments that occasionally take our breath away---but to see something like that with these guys that are practically like my family here in Minnesota was incredible. I wish we could have had an audience there so we could have just laid down in the grass and had a concert under the stars.

When did you know that you wanted to make singing your career?

I'll take this opportunity to come out as a Gleek and former Show Choir singer to everyone with this story. When I arrived on Campus at Millikin I auditioned for Show Choir and I didn't make it. The musical theater kids were amazing dancers and the dance audition was pretty much my worst nightmare. I also auditioned for the opera and was cast with a role. After singing in a full staged opera with an orchestra, I knew I wanted to sing more than I wanted to immediately go into teaching. I was super nervous to talk to my teacher about changing to performance (what if she said, "Hmm, maybe you should think about staying with music education, or better yet, library science???). I got up the nerve to ask her at my next lesson and her first question to me was, "Aaron why aren't you a performance major?" Yay! I didn't have to bring it up. That Thanksgiving I talked it over with my parents and they were very supportive. It was so incredible to have a family that supported me studying something that, to many, seems risky and impractical. It was my passion, and I followed it to career in music.

Do you have any rituals or things you do before you go out to perform?

I often joke that people would be mortified if they were back stage before a Cantus concert. We're usually eating, hanging out, just relaxing before the show. I've been known to have a Coke Zero or two before going out on stage. I know it's not the ideal "hot tea and honey" routine, but my routine is that there is no routine. When you perform over a hundred times in a year and sing 6/7 or 7/7 days a week-- you can't make singing into something that requires a routine. When Cantus toured Cameroon there were times when we sang without barely warming up. Is that ideal? No. But we were able to reach people on that tour that we would have had to pass over if we all had to stick to some sort of routine. I will say that if I have to sing a lot really early in the morning, I try to eat a big, hot breakfast. Egg and Cheese sandwich and some potatoes and hot tea. That is probably more for my whole body (I hate getting up early...) than it is for my voice. But in all seriousness, we all warm up our voices and our bodies every day because we have to maintain our instruments.

Cantus is known for its collaborations with other performing arts groups; what has been a favorite of yours?

Have you read our bio? All of them. Highlights for me include Boston Pops, Trio Medieval, and the National Lutheran Choir.

Do you play any instruments? Are there any that you'd like to learn to play?

My secondary instrument is organ. I don't get to practice as much as I'd like anymore. Perhaps in a "next chapter" I'll get more bench time. I used to play Euphonium but I wouldn't even know which end to blow in at this point. In the future I'd like to learn the banjo and accordion. I've always wanted to learn accordion but banjo is a new fascination.

Who is your music "hero" and why?

There are so many ways to answer this question, but I'll answer it from a vocal standpoint. German tenor, Fritz Wunderlich. To my ear, the finest tenor voice of all times. He moved effortlessly between opera and Lieder. Ease, beauty, release, everything a tenor voice should have. He didn't live long, like so many brilliant musicians he left this earth far too early.

What hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy doing when you are not singing (or sleeping)?

When I'm not singing or sleeping, I do spend quite a bit of time teaching voice or doing some conducting. In terms of true hobbies, I like enjoy biking, paddling in my canoe around Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and Lake Calhoun, watching documentaries and films, reading (mostly nonfiction), baking (and eating what I bake), home improvement projects, and attending cultural events.