Singer Spotlight: Kerry McCarthy

Music from the Tchaikovsky and Kastalsky program of 1994.
The first thing Kerry McCarthy ever sang with Cappella Romana (1994)

Our Singer Spotlight series continues with alto Kerry McCarthy!

How did you first start performing with Cappella Romana?

My first time singing with Cappella was in fall 1994, when I was a student at Reed College. They were doing a big concert of Tchaikovsky and Kastalsky. I loved it and I’ve been around ever since. Just the other day, when I was working in the Cappella library, I ran across the music I’d used for that concert with all my own markings in it. Almost 30 years later I still try to sing with “guts!”

Kerry McCarthy On tour with Cappella in the Belgian Ardennes (2016)
On tour with Cappella in the Belgian Ardennes (2016)

What have been some of the highlights of your time with Cappella Romana?

Singing with this group has been a passport for the mind. It’s taken me to all kinds of wonderful places I never knew existed. My two favorite parts of it have probably been training from the ground up in Byzantine chant (an endlessly fascinating world in itself) and some of the big modern works we’ve sung over the years, especially the Passion music of Maximilian Steinberg and Arvo Pärt, the Finnish vespers by Rautavaara, and the Verses of Repentance by Schnittke – that wordless final movement will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Cappella altos! (2022)
Cappella altos! (2022)

I also like putting miles on my real passport, and I’ve had the good fortune of going on a couple dozen tours with my friends in Cappella. They’re such fun people to travel with. Some favorite destinations so far: Vancouver BC, Utrecht, the Oregon Coast, a series of beautiful small towns in Belgium, and the Iași Byzantine Music Festival in Romania, where I was lucky enough to be one of the very first female chanters ever invited.

What are you doing when you’re not singing with Cappella Romana?

photo of muddy boots
Getting muddy in search of the composer Thomas Tallis (2019)

When I’m not singing with Cappella, I’m usually singing in church. Most often Gregorian chant, which I love. When I’m not singing, I’m usually writing something. My other “hat” is an author’s hat, and a lot of my everyday work is research and writing, mostly about the musical world of the English Renaissance. At the moment I’m working on my fourth book, which is about the daily lives of professional singers in Tudor England. Spoiler alert: they were a lot like us. They wrote silly stuff in their sheet music and they complained about the breakfasts they were served on tour. I’ve been lucky in that department – I still think about some of the amazing European hotel breakfasts I’ve had on tour with Cappella.

My musical research involves a lot of digging through archives and old libraries in England, but it also involves a lot of exploring (on foot whenever possible) around the buildings and landscapes and old roads where my 16th-century musicians spent their lives. That was some of the best advice I ever got: “Historians need to get their boots muddy.”

All wired up to record Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia (2016)
All wired up to record Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia (2016)

What’s something Cappella Romana audiences might not know about you?

When I was a little girl, I was a fully paid-up member of the Barry Manilow International Fan Club. I’d show a picture of my membership card if I knew where on earth it was!

Hear Kerry in performance this season!