Cantus was formed in 2001 by the current Director of Music, Phil Cowling. Having sung for many years in choirs at every level including world leading choirs such as London Symphony Chorus and Chorus of Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Phil was fully aware that choirs generally fitted in to two categories:
- very good with a lot of cliques, prima donna's etc. or
- very sociable but not of a very good musical standard.
Cantus was deliberately formed to be a choir that provided music of the highest standard yet where the members would socialise together and there would be no back biting, cliques etc. Many people said this couldn't be done – Cantus has proved them wrong!
Originally formed to stage concerts in London, Cantus had difficulties finding venues that were flexible in their approach to staging concerts. Cantus doesn't have much money, and Phil was quite determined that members shouldn't have to pay large sums of their own money to subsidise concerts, so he tried approaching churches with a view to staging concerts without a fixed fee for the hire of the church (the usual arrangement) but then splitting the proceeds of the concert 50/50. This would, naturally, mean a church could possibly gain very little income from the concert if the audience were small, but if the audience were a large one the fee could be potentially be quite large. No churches seemed to want to work on this basis, so Phil, having an interest in singing in cathedrals, started taking Cantus to cathedrals to deputise for the regular choir when they are on holiday, and this is now all that Cantus does.
Elsewhere on the website you can see details of the cathedrals visited and the repertoire that Cantus has performed. Having sung with choirs in cathedrals where the belief was that the cathedral would be impressed by the choice of music beyond the capability of the choir, Phil knows full well that cathedrals far prefer simple music performed well rather than complex music performed to a mediocre standard. However, Cantus now has a group of singers that are capable of performing the complex music as well, but Phil still enjoys programming the simpler music so the singers don't have to face a musical assault course each time they join Cantus for a weekend visit.
Recent plaudits that have been received include a member of the congregation at Chichester Cathedral who had spent Christmas with relatives in Salisbury and had attended a lot of the services at Salisbury Cathedral. She was of the opinion that we exceeded the usual standard for cathedral singing. On a visit to Durham cathedral in August 2012, Bishop Stephen Sykes, a retired Bishop who had been Bishop of Ely and formerly Dean of St John College Cambridge when Dr. George Guest was Director of Music, was exceedingly complimentary about the quality of the choir.