Photo Credit: Andy Staples
Ringing In The New Year With Music Fit For A King
Making a New Year’s resolution has long been the tradition of, basically, everybody, including me. What I have come to learn, however, is that most resolutions lean towards the side of “giving up” something. For instance, the shedding of a few pounds is a biggie as is the dumping of the louse who gave you a $25 gift card from your local big box store and called it romantic. (Yes, we all have those stories).
This year, I’d like to suggest a change in thinking, however, inviting a new tradition into your life. They are called The King’s Singers and entwining their music into your everyday would make for a truly special and enormously enjoyable New Year’s resolution. These guys have pipes, so much so, in fact, that they have dropped any and all instruments at the door. There is no need for them as these six incredibly gifted vocalists have the ability to mesmerize an audience without any accompaniment. Certainly, there is no need to figure out why The King’s Singers are an award-winning, world-renowned and a long-standing tradition in the UK. Great things usually stick around.
If you don’t already know them, here’s your chance to expand your horizons and forgo the loss of anything this New Year's Eve.
What is the mission of The King’s Singers?
I think our mission is pretty simple. It comes in three parts. The first is that we want great music to shine. No matter what style or genre, we want to be the mouthpiece for great composers and songwriters the world over. Secondly, we want to be ambassadors for the highest level of ensemble singing. And thirdly, we want to prove that choral music and ensemble music in general isn’t stuck in the past. It’s a living, breathing art form that’s as relevant now as it was 500 years ago. We are determined to showcase the full capacity for ensemble singing to entertain and to touch people’s lives.
For those who don't know, explain who The King’s Singers are, including providing a brief history with regards.
The King’s Singers were originally founded in 1968 by six choral scholars from King’s College, Cambridge. Combining their love of the traditional choral repertoire, they sang in the chapel with the rogue decision to perform popular music from the present day - in their own, distinctive close-harmony idiom; the group quickly rose to fame, appearing very regularly on prime time television in the UK and travelling across the globe. Since the original six King’s Singers came together in 1968, there have been very few changes in membership. There are only ever six King’s Singers at one time and always in the same line-up: two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and one bass. To this day, we still give about 120 concerts every year all over the world and are looking forward to celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2018 with a world tour and a thrilling new album project - about which we’re very excited. We’re also delighted to have won two Grammys and an Emmy, and to be one of only two ensembles to have been voted into Gramophone Magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame.
Please share the names and a bit of background of each of the gentleman who currently make up The King’s Singers.
So, from top to bottom:
Countertenor 1: Patrick Dunachie, 23. Alumnus of Hereford Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge. (First season as a King’s Singer)
Countertenor 2: Timothy Wayne-Wright, 33. Alumnus of Chelmsford Cathedral, Goldsmiths College (part of the University of London), Trinity College of Music, and St George’s Chapel, Windsor. (Eight season)
Tenor: Julian Gregory, 26. Alumnus of Eton College, St John’s College, Cambridge, the University of Heidelberg, and the Royal Academy of Music. (Third season)
Baritone 1: Christopher Bruerton, 32. Alumnus of Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand, the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), and Christ Church, Oxford. Qualified Schoolteacher. (Fifth season)
Baritone 2: Christopher Gabbitas, 37. Alumnus of Rochester Cathedral, Uppingham School, St John’s College, Cambridge, and Christ Church, Oxford. Qualified lawyer. (Thirteenth season)
Bass: Jonathan Howard, 29. Alumnus of the German International School in London, Christ’s Hospital, and New College, Oxford. Previously worked in advertising. (Seventh season)
What is the process to become a King’s Singer?
It’s quite a funny process. Everyone is brought to the group by recommendation - from friends that we have across the choral world. We then invite recommended candidates to audition. They learn King’s Singers music and sing with us - rather than to us - so that we can work out how well they might fit into the group. There are usually a couple of rounds of auditions, over a number of months, and then we finally decide on our new member. It’s a process I love.
How long does a King’s Singer, usually, remain a King’s Singer?
I think the average tenure is about 12 years. The shortest anyone has been a member of the group was five years, and our longest-serving member ever - former first countertenor David Hurley - just left the group in August after 26 and a half years.
What were each of your biggest reasons for wanting to become a King’s Singer?
What’s nice is that everyone’s reasons are slightly different. We all love the music and take great joy in ensemble singing. For me, I was also particularly thrilled by the amount of travel and the reality of performing for a living. There is nothing like it. And over the last six years, I’ve travelled to almost every corner of the globe, something that makes me feel incredibly lucky.
In every group, members of that group take on a specific role. Next to each member of The King’s Singers' name, write the role that singer plays within the group using only one word to describe.
Patrick Dunachie: Freshness
Timothy Wayne-Wright: Organisation
Julian Gregory: Perspective
Christopher Bruerton: Education
Christopher Gabbitas: Rigour
Jonathan Howard: Creativity
Share the biggest high and biggest low of your present group's career, thus far.
Our current group of six singers haven’t been together for too long, so it’s difficult to come up with a career high specifically from this line-up. Certainly, from my time in the group, one of the most memorable experiences was leading a workshop in Wangfujing Cathedral in Beijing, China. It’s a building that is rarely open - because of the nature of their secular culture - and religious music is usually forbidden from being performed. We were honoured to be able to watch and work with choirs intentionally and permissibly performing sacred music in a profoundly sacred setting, which is something I thought would never happen - and it was deeply moving.
As for a low point, they usually come after a concert when you’re driving back to your hotel and there’s nowhere open for food! That, and the fact that in order to be able to do what we do and love, there are inevitably events at home that we have to miss. Weddings, birthdays, other celebrations. Our friends and families of course understand when we can’t be there, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
What has been the most difficult piece for you to master up to this point? Why?
Each of us finds different parts of the musical job difficult. For me, there’s one piece we have that we have their uses quartertones a lot. I have perfect pitch, and so find it a total nightmare.
What upcoming events can we expect from you?
I mentioned that we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2018. That means concerts in many of our favorite venues around the world, as well as commissions from some of the most celebrated (and in my opinion coolest) composers and songwriters right now. It’s going to be a really, really exciting year.
So many genres of music today are branching out through the mixing of other genres of music (example. Rap with Country). Would and (are) you planning to do the same or will you remain pure to tradition?
We will always honour our heritage. Our choral landscape is so rich, there’s no way we can, or would want to, ignore it. But we can also develop it by bringing together musicians from across the world of music. That’s how we don’t stagnate. And that’s how the most exciting feats of creativity will happen. We have a lot of this planned over the next few years, not just including different styles of classical music, but looking completely outside our normal choral world, to rap, pop, folk and even further afield.
Share a social cause or cause-based organization you support?
Between us, there are so many causes that we support. But together, we do have our own charity, The King’s Singers Foundation. Its aims are always to improve access to all kinds of music, to share the joy that singing and listening to singing can bring, and to encourage and nurture the creation of new music. It’s fundamental to everything we do.
When all is said and done, how do you (as a group) want to be remembered?
If the group had to look back at its own epitaph, I think we’d want to be remembered as a group of loveable guys that were passionate about music, that championed real musical talent in all of its different guises, and that always wanted to entertain its audiences and make them happy. At its core, I know that we all agree music should be enriching. And we want to embody that.
As the holidays are soon to be over, bring something with you into the New Year that evokes wonderful memories while infusing true beauty. The King’s Singers will do both. You might even consider inviting them along for Valentine’s Day. Your beloved will swoon at their rendition of, “Thou, my love, art fair”. That and a romantic dinner...your “gift card” faux pas will soon pass, I assure you. (Lest you do it again, which, in that case, your new tradition will most certainly be “packing”!)
Many thanks to The King’s Singers and Bucklesweet Media for making this interview possible