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November 14, 2006

A quick chat with a King's Singer

For almost four decades, the King's Singers have wowed audiences worldwide with a distinctive sound, sophisticated musicianship and intriguing repertoire. Put together in 1965 by members of the choir of King's College of Cambridge University, the sextet sings everything from Renaissance motets to daunting new contemporary music to popular songs in the American tradition of close harmony.

Baritone Philip Lawson, a member since 1993, answered questions for the Chronicle's Charles Ward.

Q: What made the King's Singers such an enduring institution?

A: The main thing is the sound. It's the thing people notice when they first hear the group. It doesn't sound like six soloists battling for supremacy.

Q: When did you start singing?

A: I started at the age of 9 at the local parish church in Worth in Sussex in southern England. I became a boy chorister in the choir.

I was unlike most of the members of the King's Singers. I was not a cathedral chorister, which means living at the (cathedral choir) school and singing every day. I just sang on Sunday.

Then at age 18, I did go to York Minster (the cathedral in York) to be a choral scholar.

Q: How did you continue your singing career?

A: I moved to London and did free-lance singing and had (voice) lessons.

In 1982, I moved to Salisbury as a baritone lay clerk in the Salisbury Cathedral. That meant (singing) daily services, which I had always wanted to do three service on Sundays and midweek services as well.

When I got to Salisbury, one of the boy choristers was the son of Simon Carrington, one of the founders of the King's Singers. He used to come in and listen to us, and occasionally deputize for me. When he decided to retire, he suggested that I try out. That was in 1993.

Q: Is the path followed by most of the King's Singers members the typical manner for training English male singers?

A: The tradition of cathedral-trained singers (starting as young boys) is the dominant manner for male singers.

In your country, singing is very well established in high schools and colleges. In England, it's not.

Q: Have any singers not raised in the cathedral tradition been members of the King's Singers?

A: I think I might be the only one.

The original members were all cathedral choristers. Once you get the bug of English church music, it's in you forever.

Q: Would a singer from other traditions be able to join?

A: We have auditioned people from other countries recently a Canadian and a German but there's something in the way the vowel sounds are produced. The German couldn't make the vowel sounds (we needed) at all.

Posted by acapnews at November 14, 2006 8:45 PM