Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum
Nebraska's Professional Chorale, is the product of the creative imagination of Almeda and Jackson Berkey, performing artists of Mannheim Steamroller fame. For years the Berkeys envisioned a choral group versatile in many styles of music and comfortable in a variety of performance and recording settings. The Cantorum's fulfillment of that vision has surpassed even their own expectations. The inspiration that led to forming the 28-member group can be traced not only to the Berkeys' sense of devotion to music, but to the influence of the late Norman Luboff as well. Almeda and Jackson Berkey met prior to a national tour with the famed Luboff choir -- Almeda as a singer, Jackson as a tour pianist. This combination of rare talents has lifted their musical accomplishments to heights which neither could have achieved individually.
The three words, Soli Deo Gloria, mean "to God alone the glory" and were penned as a postscript by Johann Sebastian Bach to many of his manuscripts. Cantorum represents "singers." Not all of the group's music is of the sacred genre, however. Nor is it all classical. The versatility of the singers and the Berkeys' own musical backgrounds has allowed the group to perform a remarkably diverse array of music.
The Cantorum repertoire encompasses sacred works, chamber music, folk songs, contemporary pop tunes, and original works composed by the Berkeys. The group also performs instrumental chamber music with a number of the singers doubling as instrumentalists. It is the goal of the Cantorum to offer professional choral performances of the highest merit. The Omaha World-Herald said this about the group: "The ensemble brought to its singing an unerring purity of tone, well-defined articulations, and an ability to respond to the music's ever-changing nuances of colors and textures" and "Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum provides a showcase for...the best voices in the Omaha area..." The chorale has received international recognition for its seven recordings: Arma Lucis, Gaudete, The Mountains and the Sea, Arvo • the Magnificat, American Shadows, Cantorum Christmas, and Norman Luboff Remembered.
Selecting singers for such versatile performances was no easy task. In a relatively small group, it is necessary to sing with the bravura of a soloist, yet possess tonal qualities that also allow the voice to blend harmoniously as a chorister. Another unique requirement of the Cantorum singers is the ability to interpret how a composer intended his music to be performed. Certainly the execution of a 15th Century folk madrigal is far different from a chamber piece by Brahms or a symphonic work of Handel. It is a rare treat to the ear when style and interpretation combine in the masterful manner of the Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum.
Recordings by Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum
The unique talents and backgrounds of Almeda and Jackson Berkey have led to recording the Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum in the summer of 1989 at St. Cecilia's Cathedral. Their first recording, Arma Lucis, highlights the first season of performances. Digitally recorded on location, it features great a cappella literature from the Renaissance, stunning arrangements by Norman Luboff, and the world première recording of "Arma Lucis", Jackson Berkey's 11-minute a cappella work based on the texts inscribed on the walls of St. Cecilia's Cathedral. The piece was written for the Centennial Celebration of the Cathedral parish in November of 1988.
The Cantorum's second recording, Gaudete!, was also recorded in St. Cecila's Cathedral. This digital recording offers the first professional American recording of the "Gaudete" by Anders Öhrwall; and sensitive performances of selections from the Rachmaninoff "Vespers"; compositions by Tschesnokoff, Vittoria, Hovland, Bruckner, and Sweelinck. Gaudete! also features the première recording of several "Anniversary Carols", contemporary settings of traditional Christmas carols by Jackson Berkey.
The Cantorum's third recording, The Mountains and the Sea, was post-produced at Sound Recorders, Omaha, Nebraska, the studio home of Mannheim Steamroller. The combination of Jackson Berkey's instrumental score, natural sounds from the Great Smoky Mountains and the Olympic National Parks, and the wonderful singing by the Cantorum transports us sensitively and sublimely into the world of nature. A fourth recording, Arvo the Magnificat, features the Cantorum performing Arvo Pärt's "Magnificat", the August Soderman "Sacred Songs" and Berkey's "Native American Ambiances". American Shadows, November 1996, is an historic portrait of American choral music, and features 10 of Jackson Berkey's choral compositions, including his South Dakota Bicentennial work, "South Dakota Shadows", as well as his “Amazing Grace”, “Sacramento-Sis Joe”, and “Hold On!”
Cantorum Christmas followed with the Cantorum’s stunning capture of Jackson Berkey’s “Anniversary Carols.” Ten fabulous arrangements of familiar carols for choir, harp, bass, and percussion are joined with two harp arrangements masterfully played by Kathy Bundock Moore of Greeley, CO. The Cantorum's latest release, Norman Luboff Remembered, features Luboff’s exciting arrangements sung by the Cantorum and some members of his original touring choir. Orchestrations are written and performed by Norman’s tour pianist, Jackson Berkey. A delicious sampling of his folk songs, popular songs, gospel and folk hymns, and spirituals immortalizes a bit of the genius of Norman Luboff.
The Cantorum is currently supported through the Cantorum Foundation, a nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization whose sole purpose is to provide fiscal stability for the Cantorum. Through the Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum and the fiscal support of the Cantorum Foundation, Almeda and Jackson Berkey strive to see that others may experience the beauty, the enjoyment, and the inspiration of great music: a dream that all may share. Under the direction of Almeda Berkey and combined with the keyboard artistry of Jackson Berkey, the Cantorum has taken audiences on journeys across the oceans and through time using the languages and music of the world as transport.
Contributions to the Cantorum Foundation can be made by mail at