Arts

‘You’ve Got the Pipes, Man’

Three Rivers native touring with Chanticleer
Encore-Magazine-Arts-Logan-Shields-Chanticleer-September-2017
Logan Shields on the stage at Chenery Auditorium, where he first saw Chanticleer and returned to perform last year as a member of that vocal ensemble.

© 2017 Encore Publications/Brian Powers

Throughout elementary school, Logan Shields toted home handwritten notes from music teachers proclaiming his astounding pitch and ability to sing soprano. But it wasn’t until his junior year at Three Rivers High School that this now-countertenor for the Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer finally joined the school’s choir.

In doing so, he discovered he also had a natural gift for the formal study of music — “like reading music, understanding music theory and understanding intervals and things,” Shields explains. “So, I thought, ‘If I’m really good at this, maybe I should focus on this.’”

For the next two years, Shields sang with the Men of the Aristocrats, composed of the male members of the Three Rivers High School Choir and led by the choir’s director, Joel Moore. The ensemble participated in the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, which helped Shields realize that singing was his forte.

“Obviously I knew I could sing and that I had a voice that people liked to hear,” Shields says. “But now I had — in a more academic realm — an understanding of that gift. So I said, ‘If I’m going to college, it’s for music.’”

In 2007, Shields auditioned for the choir at Southwestern Michigan College, in Dowagiac, and was set to start SMC in the fall. That plan changed, however, after Shields attended a summer camp for instrumentalists and singers at Western Michigan University. A WMU student helping with the tenor section pulled him aside.

“He said, ‘I know you’re set to go to school, but we want you to come here,’” Shields says.

So Shields went to WMU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music for vocal performance. Eventually he transferred to Grand Valley State University, where he studied under Min Jin, affiliate professor in the Department of Music and Dance, and worked with Opera Grand Rapids.

Friendly encouragement

During his studies at WMU, Shields met another singing phenomenon, Blake Morgan, a tenor who became one of his best friends. Morgan went on to sing for Cantus (a vocal ensemble based in Minneapolis), and Chanticleer, and is now with VOCES8, a British a cappella octet touring Europe, North America and Asia.

While Morgan was singing with Chanticleer, Shields took a detour to focus on his second passion — craft brewing — and was enrolled in Cicerone Certification, a program that educates and certifies beer professionals. He also worked as a host and busser at Brewery Vivant, in Grand Rapids. In December 2015, Shields’ pursuits were “sweetly interrupted,” he says, and rerouted back to singing after a trip to see Morgan perform with Chanticleer in Chicago.

Every time Morgan and Shields reunited over the years, Shields says, Morgan said the same thing: “You’ve got the pipes, man. You’ve got the pipes.” At this concert, Morgan persisted further, introducing Shields to Chanticleer members, including the director and the assistant director. No opening on the ensemble existed at the time, but Shields was urged to audition, especially by Morgan.

“To have a guy that’s younger and started doing these things before I did — these professional gigs — come back and be like, ‘Hey, you need to do this,’ I was like, ‘I believe you because you believe in me,’” Shields says.

“It’s the most prestigious choral ensemble maybe in the world,” Shields adds. “So I said, of course, I’d send in my audition.”

Chanticleer liked what they heard, and in February 2016 Shields flew to San Francisco for a three-day audition. Then he returned home and waited — but not for long.

“It was a Wednesday night in late April or early May, and I was sitting there in Brewery Vivant drinking a shift beer — because you get a shift beer after doing your job,” Shields explains. “I saw I had a voice mail and email from Christine Bullin (Chanticleer’s president and general director).”

Bullin offered him a spot with Chanticleer. Shields’ girlfriend, Gabrielle Snow, also worked at Brewery Vivant, and when he told her, they “freaked out together,” he says.

“She cried with me,” he recalls.

New ensemble member

In August 2016, Shields walked onto the stage as a member of Chanticleer for the first time, performing at the group’s stomping ground, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Shields admits being nervous, but not about performing for the public. He was more anxious about how his fellow group members would critique his work.

“How easy? How confident? How free is it? And can you do it the whole concert?” Shields says of what he assumed they would be wondering. “That first concert, I remember thinking, ‘I just have to get through this.’”

He did, and a year later his voice has graced dozens of stages around the world, including the Liszt Academy Concert Center, in Budapest, Hungary; the Ridalfinum Concert Hall, in Prague; the Moriinsky Theatre, in Saint Petersburg, Russia; and the Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan — where you sing a quick note, he says, and it reverberates for more than five seconds.

Of all the venues Shields has performed in, he says, one stands out: Chenery Auditorium. In 2006, Shields and his fellow Kalamazoo's high school classmates sat in the auditorium to hear a Chanticleer performance. A little over a decade later — in April 2017 — Shields returned to Chenery as a member of that ensemble.

“Chenery was really symbolic for me,” says Shields, who now lives in San Francisco. “It’s full circle.”

Are Shields’ family, friends, educators and colleagues surprised that this kid from the small community of Three Rivers performs with Chanticleer in famous locales across the globe? Excited and proud, yes, he says. But surprised? Not really.

“They were like, ‘Yeah, you’re a singer. This is what you were built to do,’” he says. “And I’ve had educators and other colleagues say, ‘It makes sense.’”

No left eardrum

But there is something besides his voice quality that makes Shields’ singing ability so amazing: his lack of a left eardrum. As a child, he had a cholesteatoma, an abnormal skin growth in the middle ear behind the eardrum. It crushed all of his inner left ear, resulting in conductive hearing loss, Shields says. Surgeons attempted, unsuccessfully, to rebuild it four times.

To compensate, Shields makes sure there are plenty of voices positioned on his right side when he’s singing.

“I can say my disability causes me to hyper-focus on pitch and intonation as well as other vocal qualities,” he says, adding that he plans to get a hearing aid in the coming year to help.

“There’s that kind of party trick aspect behind it,” Shields says and laughs.

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Back at Chenery

Of all the venues Shields has performed in, he says, one stands out: Chenery Auditorium. In 2006, Shields and his fellow Kalamazoo's high school classmates sat in the auditorium to hear a Chanticleer performance. A little over a decade later — in April 2017 — Shields returned to Chenery as a member of that ensemble.

“Chenery was really symbolic for me,” says Shields, who now lives in San Francisco. “It’s full circle.”