The Jefferson City Cantorum has serenaded us for 50 years.

photos provided by Nancy Waggoner

What began as a double quartet has since become a legacy — a 50-year legacy passed down by J. Patrick Healey and Grayson Peters — of creating and cultivating a love for music in the Jefferson City community and surrounding areas. This love for music (specifically choral music, or music performed by an ensemble of singers) transformed into what we know today as the Jefferson City Cantorum.

The original eight members that made up the Cantorum shared their passion by singing carols at local hospitals and nursing homes in the Capital City community during the Christmas season in 1967, but, only a year after the first formal concert, the small ensemble quickly grew to a not-so-small group of 30 — and they got bigger plans. 

A few decades and a few hundred members later, the Jefferson City Cantorum has up to 75 vocalists performing at any given concert. These Cantorum members range in age and profession: the group is an eclectic and talented mix that includes retirees, doctors, students, teachers, and more. For most members of this community choir, it’s a hobby, an extracurricular, an opportunity to socialize and sing with friends and, of course, make new ones.

Nancy Waggoner, longtime member and presiding executive director, considers the choral group a secondary family of sorts. “What makes Cantorum special is not only our love of singing, but the care we have for each other,” she says. “We have become our own family. Long and lasting friendships have developed over these past 50 years and continue today.”

It’s not just about the music for Waggoner and her fellow members — it’s about the music, the people, and the community. Since its inception, thousands of people have contributed to the success of the Cantorum by singing, volunteering, sponsoring, or simply listening.

Part of what makes the Jefferson City Cantorum so different from, say, a solo vocalist is the intricacies that become possible between so many singers performing at one time. A choral performance is complex and harmonious and altogether grand in a way that’s impossible to replicate without the same number of vocalists. When voices are layered on top of one another and intertwined, the chorus can highlight and showcase notes and tones in a unique way. The performance becomes more than the sum of its parts — transcendent, really.

The joy and love for singing has taken the choral group to venues across Missouri and the world. You may have seen them around town performing patriotic Americana numbers on the capitol steps at a Fourth of July celebration, or you may have caught them accompanying the St. Louis or Kansas City symphonies. In 1983, the Jefferson City Cantorum traveled all the way across the pond to perform at the Cork International Choral and Dance Festival in Cork, Ireland. (They won the prestigious Heinrich Schütz Memorial Trophy.) The group’s repertoire has changed throughout the years: from classics to pop to country music to show tunes to international songs to everything in between. You might say they have more than a little something for everyone.

The Cantorum has performed alongside local groups including the Jefferson City Symphony, the Helias Catholic High School Choir, the Westminster Choir, the Jefferson City Jays’ Jazz Band, and the Lincoln University Choir. The Cantorum still performs mini-concerts at nursing homes and hospitals just like the original eight members did 50 years ago. They also sing at dedications, conventions, and annual stage concerts.

The legacy built by J. Patrick Healey and Grayson Peters lives on today through each Cantorum member and through the J. Patrick Healey Scholarship. Since 2005, the scholarship has been awarded to deserving area high school seniors who show an “exceptional interest in choral music.” To continue enriching our community for years to come, the Friends of Cantorum organization was also created in 2005 in an effort to help provide financial support for the sustained success of the Jefferson City Cantorum.

It’s (almost) the most wonderful time of the year, and there’s no better way to get into the spirit of the holidays than with a few cheerful carols sung by this community choir at the annual Cantorum Christmas Concert. This year’s show will be more than the chorus’ classics, since the Cantorum will also be celebrating half a century of performing. Popular Christmas songs spanning the past 50 years, hand-picked and voted on by past and present members of the Cantorum, will be sung under the direction of Principal Conductor Suzanne Barner Kitchen with accompanist Jan Houser. Additionally, a special encore will be sung by both present and past members of the Cantorum (of which there are over 600). The Cantorum Christmas Concert is December 9 at 7 p.m. at the Miller Performing Arts Center. Tickets may be purchased in advance at Capital Music Company, Central Bank West, Hawthorn Bank East, and Samuel’s Tuxedos and Gifts.


Read more about Jefferson City history here.