Cantus Biography: Gary Ruschman

December 15, 2010
Gary Ruschman
Cantus member Gary Ruschman.
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 Gary Ruschman.

Tenor Gary Ruschman is currently in his seventh season with Cantus. Originally from Erlanger, Ky., Adam's education background includes a BM from Northern Kentucky University and an MM from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here, he shares his thoughts on the variety of Cantus' repertoire, gives us a lengthy list of his musical heroes and discusses the importance of Yoga.

What is the best part of singing with Cantus?

I love the variety of music that Cantus sings. Before I joined the ensemble, I was doing mostly opera and oratorio work, which is satisfying, of course, but perhaps a little focused over the long term. I always enjoyed singing in ensembles, and missed my days playing in a band or combo. Where else am I going to get a chance to do a little of every genre each night, from an Appalachian tune, a hymn, to a serious masterwork to a Dave Matthews tune and a newly commissioned piece all in a row, and have it be a cohesive, compelling experience? Pretty much only with Cantus!

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

Cantus is the only group I know that has made a true collaborative model work in the national classical vocal scene. Everyone weighs in, and participates in how the company does things. As the recruitment guy, it's a challenge to find new talent, because we need people who are more than just engaging artists. They also need to be able to program, be collegial, be a self-starter, have discipline, and have strong opinions, while maintaining a great deal of flexibility. But once the right people come together, it really gets exciting to make music.

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

When that kid in Omaha (or was it Cedar Falls?) wanted to know the answer to two questions: "Do you like Bach?" and "Do you live in a trailer?"!!!

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

Even though I started college as an art major, I was singing in three ensembles. I had a mentor in college that told me if I could develop a strong work ethic, I had enough talent to sing for a living. So, on my twentieth birthday I decided to stop double majoring and focus on music. I don't know if I ever managed that work ethic, but I have managed to sing full time for about a decade.

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

Try to stretch out the ol' legs and hips--it took a long time to get around to doing it regularly, but baritone Thomas Hampson once told me after a master class: "Son, you need to do yoga". He was so right--the body awareness and balance you get from practicing yoga really makes a difference when you're on day sixteen of a tour, and hour ten on your feet.

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

During my first year with the ensemble, I discovered that Trio Mediaeval was on our management's roster. Being Cantus' resident early music geek, and a huge fan of Trio, I immediately started bugging everyone that we needed to do a show together, and the next year we did! It was a great time touring with them to Cleveland and the Kennedy Center, a couple years later, too.

Going on tour with the Boston Pops was also a real treat--playing classical guitar, djembe, and soloing on "Oh, Holy Night" with the Esplanade Orchestra behind you is exhilarating, to say the least!

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

I grew up playing acoustic guitar, and later I picked up the bass, which is my favorite instrument to play. I somehow managed to pass my keyboard proficiencies in college. Right now I'm working on melodica, and trying to play bass a couple of times a week, to stay fresh for our pop shows each June.

Who is your music "hero" and why?

I have a lot.

Classical: Jennifer Lane, John Mark Ainsley, Michael Schade, Ann Murray, Dorothea Roschmann, Jeffrey Thomas, Tuva Semmingsen, Bruce Ford, Richard Croft.

Jazz: Mel Torme, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Bobby McFerrin, Miles Davis, New York Voices.

Pop/Rock: Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Rush, Tears for Fears, Sting.

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

Play. Sta. Tion. I may be the oldest member of Cantus, but I'm proud to be the heaviest gamer. I also enjoy arranging music and reading.