The King’s Singers: Back by popular demand

The last time the King’s Singers — a London-based, all-male a cappella sextet — came to Middlebury, they were a hit. Actually, that’s an understatement.
The 2015 concert was scheduled to take place in Robison Hall, but it quickly sold out and was moved to Mead Chapel, where it earned a standing ovation from the crowd. Audience members requested a repeat, and after two years of organizing, spearheaded by Middlebury’s Performing Arts Series Director Allison Coyne Carroll, the King’s Singers are coming back.
 “They completely charmed our audience, and we are most enthusiastic about having them return to Middlebury,” Carroll said. “The line to greet them and have CDs signed at the end of the concert went into the chapel for quite a while. When your audience is that enraptured with a performance, it’s a good sign that you should consider bringing them again.”
The group will return this Friday, Nov. 3 in Mead Chapel, at 8 p.m., the first stop on their 50th Anniversary Gold Tour, and the only stop in Vermont. The concert will include four pieces the group has never performed before —one of which was composed by Nico Muhly, born and raised in Randolph, Vt.
Even though the group often performs more than 125 concerts per year, members are excited to come back to Middlebury.
“My memory is notoriously terrible with non-musical facts and figures, but I do remember Middlebury,” Tim Wayne-Wright, one of the group’s countertenors, said in an interview. “We loved our brief stay last time.”
Julian Gregory, a tenor, wrote this on the King’s Singers’ active blog before the group left town:
“Vermont is a beautiful part of the U.S. and the quality of air reminds me of that found in the Swiss Alps. Consequently, I feel healthier than normal and in even better spirits, too, in spite of the spicy chicken wings and Philly sandwich I had last night in a local tavern after the concert (courtesy of our kind presenter).”
There’s a good reason why concert-goers were so emphatic about the visit. The King’s Singers have been awarded two Grammy’s, an Emmy Award, and a place in Gramophone magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame.
But more than that, they’re a group with a history. The King’s Singers was founded in 1968 by six recently-graduated choral scholars from King’s College, Cambridge. Their vocal line-up was (by chance) two countertenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass — and though the singers in the group have changed from the original sextet, the group has never wavered from this vocal lineup.
“The sound of the group is everything — it’s the most important and precious thing that we have to hold on to as we embark on the next 50 years,” Wayne-Wright said. “Even though the timbre and color of each voice has changed over the years, as every voice is of course unique, it is amazing when you actually hear recent recordings and compare these to some of the old LPs that the group made back in the early 1970s — there is very, very little difference between the group sound then and now.”
 Unlike other a cappella groups, the King’s Singers heavily integrate classical style and knowledge into their performances, which is complimented by folk and pop songs. All of the group members have studied music formally and practice the craft with discipline, rehearsing their parts for hours each day, alone and together.
As a countertenor, Wayne-Wright has the highest vocal range of all male singers. He started singing at the age of six as a boy chorister at Clemsford Cathedral in England. He continued his music education at the University of London and before received a postgraduate diploma at Trinity College of Music in London.
In 50 years, there have only ever been 26 King’s Singers, and the audition process is invite-only. Wayne-Wright was asked to audition after he held the prestigious position of Alto Lay Clerk at St. George’s Chapel in the Windsor Castle. He’s been in his current role as a countertenor for “nine happy years.”
“We have a huge responsibility every single time we walk out on stage to maintain The King’s Singers’ reputation,” Wayne-Wright said. “The weight of history is always felt, but we’re all immensely proud of what we do.”
On top of the rehearsing, traveling and performing, the group spends time mentoring choirs, holding workshops and teaching residential courses year-round. During last year’s visit to Middlebury, the group worked with the college’s choir. Wayne-Wright later wrote in the blog:
“We had a very productive masterclass session with the Middlebury Collegium and the larger Middlebury Collegium Choir yesterday, and we can safely say that vocal music here is thriving!”
Audience members will be able to meet the King’s Singers this year after Friday’s performance when the group signs copies of CDs and other merchandise. Shortly after, the six will depart on the rest of their 50th anniversary tour, which will include more than 50 concerts across the U.S. and internationally. Wayne-Wright is ready for the wild ride.
“My favorite part is being able to entertain,” he said. “I love the fact that in this job you can make people cry with laughter during a slap-stick song, and also, in the same concert, you can move members of the audience to tears by singing a very powerful lullaby, for example. This is achieved not by using clever microphone technique or the latest technology, but by simply using the most powerful instrument of all: the human voice. It’s a very special group to be part of and I love every second of it.”
Tickets are $30 for adults; $25 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, emeriti and alumni; $6 for Middlebury College students, and are on sale at 802-443-MIDD (6433) or middlebury.edu/arts/tickets. 

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