COLUMBIA — Chad Payton stood before a small ensemble of violins, violas and cellos in a rehearsal Friday at First Baptist Church. The strings began to play, their rich chords reverberating in the near-empty sanctuary.
Then Payton — 6-foot-1, with a close-cropped, dark-brown beard — began to sing, the unexpectedly high voice carefully enunciating in Italian the song’s themes of grief, sorrow and revenge.
This Friday, the Odyssey Chamber Series will feature Payton, along with the Bach Collegium Choir, Odyssey Chamber Ensemble and MU faculty members, in a concert dedicated to music written in and inspired by the Baroque era.
Singing in a register traditionally ruled by women, Payton, a countertenor, is a relative rarity in Columbia’s choral world. He switched from tenor nearly three years ago and acknowledged he feels now as if he often has to win over audiences who have never heard a countertenor.
“It’s a stronger sound than just a falsetto,” Payton said. “It has more presence in it.”
He encouraged curious potential concert-goers to take a chance on the countertenor experience, saying that listening to one type of music without exploring other genres is like “eating turkey on rye three square meals a day.”
Payton will perform Vivaldi’s “Cessate, omai cessate.”
“It’s a real show piece,” said Paul Crabb, associate professor and director of choral activities at MU who will conduct Payton and the Odyssey Chamber Ensemble. “There is a delicate section that is only pizzicato strings and harpsichord that is like walking in crystal.”
Crabb said listening to Payton is like going to a movie and seeing and hearing something that you rarely see.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Crabb will also lead the Bach Collegium Choir and Odyssey Chamber Ensemble in a performance of Bach’s fourth cantata, which Crabb described as one of the greatest hits of the Protestant Church. It’s a familiar and catchy tune that modern listeners may find themselves whistling after the concert, he said.
“Even someone who may not know the details of the performance practice can appreciate the virtuosity of what is happening,” Crabb said. “Odyssey brings some of the finest singers and players from Columbia together. It’s exciting to watch.”