Singer Spotlight: Meet Kristen Buhler

Kristen Buhler Selfie

Our Singer Spotlight series continues with Kristen Buhler!

What led you to singing professionally?

I’ll never forget watching Choral Cross-Ties sing Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei. I was a senior at Clackamas High School at the time, and heavily involved in choir and theater. I was enthralled with the powerful, emotional singing, and moved to tears. After that concert, I remember thinking: THIS is what I want to do. Sing professionally, and help transport people out of their everyday lives and problems, just like I was transported during that concert. 

I ended up earning B.A. degrees in Vocal Performance and Writing/Literature at George Fox University, and graduate degrees in Choral Conducting and Special Education at Portland State University. During my graduate work at PSU, I began singing regularly with Cappella Romana and other ensembles in town. 

Singing with Cappella Romana over the past 17 years has given me so many opportunities to fulfill my lofty teen wish, while greatly enriching my life along the way.

What do you do when not singing with Cappella Romana?

This August, I’ve been busy singing beautiful Renaissance music for the 24th Annual William Byrd Festival with Cantores in Ecclesia. I’m especially looking forward to our Final Concert on Sunday, August 20th at 4 pm at St. Philip Neri Church.

Here’s a little sample from one of our Opening Concert rehearsals last week directed by Blake Applegate:

In my non-singing life this fall, I’ll be starting my 20th year of teaching braille, assistive technology, and cooking to students with visual impairment, and my writing team and I are in the process of publishing our Building on Patterns: Kindergarten curriculum. I’ve co-authored this braille curriculum and its revisions for the past 16 years, and love drawing on my musical background for story and song ideas.

What are you most excited for this season?

I’ve always loved singing Christmas music of any tradition, and was even a Dickens Caroler for 8 years – bonnet and all! I’m really looking forward to reprising our 12 Days of Christmas in the East program in December. It has such a unique mix of Byzantine chant and beautiful Greek polyphony. I had such a wonderful experience performing this program with Cappella Romana at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, and I think it will be a great way to end 2023!

What Cappella Romana recordings have you been most proud of?

I really love when we perform and record programs featuring music from both the Eastern and Western traditions, such as our most recent recording, A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court. The in-depth scholarly research that Alexander Lingas brings to this, and all of our programs offers so much context to both us as singers, and the audience. The juxtaposition of the Byzantine chant with the early English polyphony is so exciting!

Cappella Romana Hagia Sophia Performance
Cappella Romana Performing “Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia”

I’m also extremely proud of our Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia: Medieval Byzantine Chant. It was so amazing to be a part of this multi-year collaboration between Cappella Romana and the Icons of Sound team at Stanford University. This is the first vocal album in the world to be recorded entirely in live virtual acoustics. Plus, it was the first time women sang on a Cappella Romana Byzantine chant recording, which makes it extra special to me. 

Taking the virtual (11 second) acoustic on tour with Pop-Up Magazine in 2019 to dry halls around the country really gave me a taste of how people can be affected emotionally by music and acoustics. Many people came up to us afterwards saying they were moved to tears by the sheer experience of being transported to Hagia Sophia acoustically.

What is something Cappella Romana audiences might not know about you?

I’ve learned so much about other cultures while singing and traveling with Cappella Romana whether it be late night folk song trades with local students in Romania, reveling in the unbelievable Utrecht Early Music Festival city life and musical offerings, trading songs and stories with locals at a pub in Limerick, or singing a magical concert outside of the Cave of the Apocalypse in Patmos. Experiences like these with my incredible Cappella Romana colleagues and friends have helped to shape me and broaden my worldview. Plus, all the extra “glamour” on tour (ferries run aground, planes hit by birds, noisy roosters, missing tour buses, etc.) has helped us to bond further, and given us even better stories and anecdotes to share!

I consider myself to be a lifelong learner, and singing with Cappella has certainly helped with that! I’ll never forget practicing the fast Greek words from a Michael Adamis canon for 3 part trebles in a playground on my first tour in Greece with Alexander Lingas. This attention to language pronunciation detail whether it be Greek, Ukrainian, Finnish, or Serbian (to name a few) has really helped me grow as a musician and person. Along those lines, learning to sing Byzantine chant with excellent teachers such as John Michael Boyer and Alexander Lingas has been so fulfilling. 

I’m pretty sure my 17-year-old self never expected I would end up teaching braille, writing curriculum, and singing Byzantine chant along with other amazing polyphony professionally. What a fun ride this has been so far! 

I hope you will consider joining us this season for some of our concerts. It’s been such a treat getting to know many of our fans over the years. The energy you all bring to our concerts is so fantastic!

—Kristen Buhler