A Chanticleer Christmas
Saturday, Nov. 25
George Mason University’s Center for the Arts
Sunday, Nov. 26
Hylton Performing Arts Center
Tuesday, Nov. 28
Weinberg Center for the Arts
Full details at chanticleer.org
There were strong signs that the music bug had bitten a young Zachary Burgess years before he knew what was happening or thought anything of it.
A family story his mother likes to tell is how a young Zach joined Vanessa Williams full-throttle in the movie theater for “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s “Pocahontas.”
“I could have cared less if anyone was listening or if I was annoying anyone,” Burgess, 30, says. “I was having the time of my life. It’s so funny. There are other similar stories. Things I don’t even remember. I’d be 4 and would make them gather around in the living room of my grandma’s house. It really has been in my DNA since I was little.”
In July, Burgess, a McLean, Va., native, moved to San Francisco to accept his big break — one of the coveted 12 slots in the male classical vocal group Chanticleer, an a cappella, Grammy-winning ensemble celebrating its 40th season. The choir is just starting its Christmas tour which has performances in Fairfax, Manassas and Frederick in the coming days.
Joining, he says, was an honor. He has a one-year contract with the group.
“I was relieved that the hard work I had put into my musical journey was starting to pay off,” he says.
It came at an interesting time, Burgess says. A 2013 graduate of the Eastman School of Music, the bass-baritone returned to the Washington area and was balancing a burgeoning local music career with his work at the Apple Store in Tysons Corner. Both careers were going fairly well. He’d been promoted from the Genius Bar at Apple into working as an inventory specialist and says there was potential there with a job he says he loved.
Simultaneously, he’d gained some traction in the music world, too. He took first prize in the Vocal Arts D.C. Art Song Discovery Competition, gave solo recitals at the Phillips Collection and the Kennedy Center, made multiple appearances with D.C. Public Opera, the Alexandria Choral Society and more.
But there were also a few bumps in the road. After a particularly dry year musically in 2015, Burgess says he “hit a fork” and decided to give music another full-on pursuit by finding a voice teacher (Elizabeth Daniels), a coach (Joy Schreier) and performing as often as he could.
“That’s really what has propelled me to now,” he says. “From then to now, the trajectory has just been up, up, up, up, up. Which is interesting because I’d just started to feel I’d kind of found my voice in the D.C. area and was starting to get some traction there.”
He’d auditioned for Chanticleer in February, 2016 but didn’t get the call until about a year and a half later. Some singers stay in the group a few seasons. Another is in his 28th (and final) season. The group performs everything from Renaissance, baroque, spirituals and contemporary compositions in configurations ranging from simple SATB harmony to complex arrangements where each of the 12 singers might be singing a different part.
Burgess says he wasn’t sure initially if his voice would blend well with the ensemble since he was more on a solo singing type of path, but he says so far, it’s been satisfying and he’s learned a lot about when to project and when to hold back depending on the performance space.
Upon moving to the Bay Area, Burgess had five weeks of rehearsal to learn two programs’ worth of repertoire. He went from an average of singing about 90 minutes per day to four-hour, Monday–Friday rehearsals with the group, which he says was “the biggest shock” to his voice.
After a summer tour that took him to Spain, Germany, Poland, France and more and a busy fall with many U.S. concerts, it’s time for the Christmas tour. He was surprised to learn later that his mom had some Chanticleer Christmas CDs in her collection. They’d been there for years and he’d heard them but didn’t make the connection that this was the group he’d auditioned for.
“Now that I’ve stepped up to this big platform and seen this reaction, you now, you’re touching another person and that’s why I do this,” Burgess says. “It’s not about me, it’s not about fulfilling my own destiny. Now I get to enjoy just sort of delivering that talent and that passion and taking someone out of their world for a minute. When you know you’re emotionally connecting with a total stranger, you’re so vulnerable and you’re putting yourself out there, but to have that connection is really amazing.”
Burgess, who came out at 14 (“I was the flyest kid in the neighborhood rolling out of my parent’s driveway in my Barbie jeep as a toddler”), says there is a “healthy mix” of gay members in Chanticleer.
Burgess is single and says he’s enjoying navigating San Francisco gay life.
So far, what stands out most about San Francisco living versus D.C.?
“Everybody here is young, everybody has a tech job and nobody asks what you do, which is like the second question you get asked always in D.C.,” Burgess says. “I didn’t really know what to expect moving to what is probably the gayest city in America. … I’m such an East Coast person, very structured, very type A, so it’s been interesting getting used to a lot of people who are more laid back with their time.”