Founded in 1968, the Grammy-winning King’s Singers are still going strong. While the original members have slowly left and been replaced, the current group remains at six, with one bass, two baritones, a tenor and two countertenors. They continue to travel the world performing commissioned works and their own unique takes on everything from jazz standards and popular hits to madrigals. They’re recognized for their intonation, diction, vocal blend, and timing. They’re also highly regarded for their educational workshops and masterclasses for singers and a cappella groups.
This summer, The King’s Singers will hold their first-ever U.S. Summer School at DePauw University for singers and vocal ensembles of all abilities (ages 16 and up).
Current King’s Singer, baritone Christopher Bruerton, founding member and choral conductor Brian Kay, bass, and former member and choral director Nigel Perrin, countertenor, took time out of their busy schedules to share some thoughts to inspire vocalists of all levels.
MajoringInMusic.com: Most of The King’s Singers studied music on the college/university level. How has this helped their careers?
Christopher Bruerton: The importance of studying music at a tertiary (college) level is hugely important for those who choose to follow the path of a career in music. Music is a language, and a greater vocabulary and understanding of various genres and styles is imperative for being a consummate performer.
MM: What did the original King’s Singers do while still in school to lay the foundation for a singing group that’s lasted almost fifty years?
Nigel Perrin: The original King’s Singers all won choral scholarships to sing in the famous choir of King’s College Chapel while studying for an honours degree at University of Cambridge.
Brian Kay: Nothing could have laid a deeper foundation for our subsequent life in music as a distinctly close harmony group.
It was our director of music – the late, great Sir David Willcocks – who instilled in us the building blocks on which we developed what became such a lasting ensemble. We were able and encouraged as choral scholars to take our combined talents outside the college chapel, to join and perform at the famous Footlights (comedy) Club, and generally to get used to performing together in public: a great training for us all.
We also enjoyed frequent visits to the local pub, and this helped hugely in building up the chemistry between us, which is such a vital ingredient of a tight-knit musical ensemble.
MM: Did the founders ever imagine their a cappella group would last half a century and counting?
Brian: Absolutely no way! None of us really knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, but we thought that it might be worth staying together for a couple of years in order to go on enjoying each other’s company and carrying on doing the thing we loved most: singing.
Nigel: In addition to singing ‘church’ music under the direction of Sir David Willcocks, there was a tradition for the choral scholars to sing light music arrangements. In 1966, they decided to make an LP of these arrangements. This proved very popular and sowed a seed which encouraged 6 (of the 7 original members) to continue singing together after they graduated.
But everyone had their own individual careers to pursue including working as double-bass players in the BBC Northern Orchestra, as freelance singers at venues including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and in teaching. It (The King’s Singers) was only perceived as extramural fun and there was no notion of it ever becoming a full-time commitment.
That was until a promoter came along and insisted on promoting them in a concert on London’s South Bank with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra directed by Sir Neville Marriner. It then became a more serious affair. The group was invited to undertake a three-month tour of Australia and New Zealand. A recording and TV shows followed, and the rest, as they say, is history!
MM: How does listening relate to being a consummate performer, whether as a soloist or as a member of an ensemble?
Chris: Listening is the single most important feature of a good performer or ensemble. It links all facets of performing together. Any decision we make can be improved by determining what we are hearing and how we can adapt what we are doing based on what we are hearing.
MM: Your best tips for a successful audition?
Chris: Have confidence. An audition, believe it or not, is designed to find out what you can do. If there is an option to select your own repertoire, then choose something that shows you off in the best possible light.
Be yourself. It gives people a chance to see who they might be working with.
Be pragmatic. If you walk out of the audition knowing you’ve done the best you can, then be happy with that. The judging panel may be looking for something different, be it timbre, look, personality, or even something you haven’t thought of.
MM: Suggestions for someone who dreams of touring the world with a highly-regarded a cappella group?
Chris: Probably, aside from loving what you do, the most important tip we would pass on to a student or group is to find your own voice. Find what combination of voices and choice of repertoire makes you sound the best, that you enjoy performing the most, and that, in turn, the audience will appreciate hearing.
Barbra Weidlein is co-founder and director of MajoringInMusic.com.
Photo Credit: Andy Staples