Classical Music

The King’s Singers Return To Canada With Finding Harmony

The King’s Singers (Photo: Frances Marshall)

The King’s Singers will be returning to Canada later this month for a series of shows, including a stop on Toronto’s Koerner Hall on February 16.

Founded in 1968, the King’s Singers have been carrying the torch for a cappella choral work for decades. Named after King’s College in Cambridge, UK, six scholars in choral studies formed the original group. Since then, they’ve gone on to widespread acclaim, and touring the world on a regular basis.

With each new release and round of performances, the King’s Singers offer a theme and concept the unifies the work. For their current series of shows, they will be performing their Finding Harmony program. It explores works that chart the evolution of Western harmony over the last eight centuries, with a focus on music that confronts oppression — a theme that seems especially poignant these days.

Eleven periods of history will be represented in music, from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century to the bombings in Manchester, UK in 2017.

The King's Singers (Photo: Frances Marshall)
The King’s Singers (Photo: Frances Marshall)

Diving a little deeper, we asked tenor Julian Gregory (centre bottom row in the photo above) a few questions about his career, and the upcoming show.

How did you come to be involved in choral music?

My father is an organist and choir trainer (and I come from a musical family!), so from the age of 6, I was singing in cathedral and chapel choirs across the country. I was fortunate to win music scholarships throughout my education, and so I was always surrounded by choirs and a cappella groups; it would have been impossible to avoid the influence of choral music growing up!

Most of the other members have had similar formative experiences to me, singing in church and school choirs in their youth; I think Johnny (the bass) might be an exception as he didn’t sing in a church choir until he was a student, but rather sang in a community choir and did totally normal children’s activities like learn hymnbooks off by heart and listen to nursery rhymes on repeat.

How do you keep your voice in shape on tour?

I think the key is to lead a lifestyle that makes you feel happy and healthy. The particulars are different for everyone, but for me, it means aiming every day for 8+ hours of sleep, drinking at least a couple of litres of water (and more if we’re on airplanes or at altitude!), going for a run, eating a good, balanced diet and drinking coffee and alcohol in moderation! Sounds quite boring, but we need to look after ourselves if we’re going to perform 120 concerts each year around the world; otherwise the fun quickly turns into a struggle.

How did the Finding Harmony program come about? It sounds like a response to the chaotic events of the last few years.

Finding Harmony actually came about during 2018, the group’s 50th anniversary year, at a time when we were all on tour having one of the busiest touring years to date! That 50th year was a joyous celebration of TKS’ first 50 years, and so I think when we were looking to our next big project, we decided that we wanted to create something more profound, and something which included music from many different countries and cultures.

One such strand was music that has brought communities and societies together, both in times of adversity and of celebration, and so the concept of Finding Harmony was born. It is of course an idea that has never been more relevant and important than in today’s world, and so we’re grateful that we have such a powerful project and album we can draw on in all our concerts.

O, chì, chì mi na mòrbheanna (arr. James MacMillan) is a Scottish folk song sung in Gaelic. It was written by John Cameron, a Highlander forced from his home during the period known as the Highland Clearances. The song was written to remind him of the beauties he’d left behind, arranged for The King’s Singers by Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan.

How powerful a role do you believe that music has played in various movements throughout history? Is it a reflection of the times, or can it also be a catalyst?

I think music is a language that people or indeed whole movements have been able to use to express themselves in times of oppression and sorrow; joy and celebration. So in that sense, the language of music can be used to reflect on the times, one’s experiences (personal and collective) and one’s stories; but also to help unite people, like in congregational hymns, or even in mass protests (such as the Singing Revolution in Estonia during the 1980s).

What do you think is unique about the tradition of choral music to connect with audiences, a tradition which has remained a strong part of cultural life through the centuries and across cultures? Choir participation, for example, is rising.

One of the joys of choral music is that anyone can get involved because you don’t need to be able to play an instrument, nor even speak the same language; rather, just to be able to breathe, open your mouth and sing! There is an inherent socialness about singing together in a choir which helps to break down barriers between choir members, and of course a group of people working together and doing the same thing is greater than the sum of its parts; the same is true in singing. There’s nothing quite like attending a concert and seeing a group of people on stage all having a great time, singing their hearts out and creating some beautiful chords together.

What can audiences expect from the upcoming performance?

From our Finding Harmony programme, they can expect a good variety of musical styles, genres and languages, which might move them to laughter, tears and tingles of the spine. But they should also expect some classic KS close harmony classics (folk, jazz and pop songs) at the end. They’re in for a spell-binding and entertaining evening — particularly as we’ll still be warm from the sunny climes of Florida the day before!!

Let’s hope they’re packing some warm woollens for the trip.

Their 2020 Finding Harmony album can be found here, and their brand new release, Tom + Will, and can be found here.

The King’s Singers Canadian dates include Valentine’s Day February 14 at La Salle Bourgie in Montréal, February 17 in London at The Aeolian, and February 18 in Ottawa as part of Ottawa Chamberfest.

Tickets to the Toronto show on February 16 are on sale here.


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