This Colorado choir happened into a collaboration online, now it’s taking center stage in Guatemala.

June 14, 2022
Kantorei and Vocalis choirs in GuatemalaKantorei and Vocalis choirs in GuatemalaCourtesy of Joel Rinsema/Kantorei
Members of the Kantorei and Vocalis choirs gather before a rehearsal for their performances of "El Ultimo Hilo'' in Guatemala this week. The project features the work of Mayan poet Humberto Ak'Abal set to music by American composer Jake Runestad.

It began a few years ago, with a puzzling post on Denver choir Kantorei’s Facebook page.

It turned into a musical collaboration that’s coming to full fruition in Guatemala this week.

Kantorei singers are teaming with the Guatemalan choir Vocalis for a program called “El Ultimo Hilo” – “The Last Thread,” which sets the work of Mayan poet  Humberto Ak’abal to music by American composer Jake Runestad in a reflection on the Mayan genocide during the Guatemalan Civil War.

The partnership between the two choirs, though, has different geographic roots – in Norway. In 2017, Kantorei director Joel Rinsema took to Facebook to promote an upcoming concert featuring Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. Turns out, members of a Guatemalan choir were big fans. One of them, Karin Bruns, happened upon Rinsema’s post and commented – in Spanish. Rinsema got curious and reached out.  Before long, he invited Bruns and some of her fellow Guatemalans to Denver for the performance. They came and then returned the favor, asking Rinsema to visit Guatemala. He fell in love with the country and decided to commission a piece of music to reflect his gratitude.

“I didn’t know exactly what that would look like,” Rinsema recalled. “And I didn’t know which text would be set.” A Google search led him to the work of Nobel Prize-winning poet Ak’abal and he found Runestad to compose. 

Bruns said many Guatemalans aren’t fully aware of the oppression indigenous people have suffered in the country. “We grow up and we  know something about indigenous and Mayans, but it's not that much,” she said. “...It’s also a gift for us to really look into our roots and see the beauty we have here and what amazing poets also from the indigenous people we have here, so it’s been also a process for me to discover who this person is.”