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February 3, 2007

King's Singers play it straight

Centre Daily Times (PA):

Founded at King's College in Cambridge in 1968, the King's Singers bring together six a-cappella singing Englishmen and an eclectic array of music from around the world, running the gamut from medieval chants to The Beatles. Trained in the English cathedral choir tradition and combining wit, comedy and technical proficiency.

The Weekender spoke to baritone Christopher Gabbitas about the group's aspirations, traditions and the longevity of the pop songs the singers transform into a cappella masterpieces.

Weekender: What can American audiences expect from a King's Singers' show?

Gabbitas: Recently, the recording industry has moved on from albums where artists would record piece after piece, with no discernible thread, to albums based on a single coherent concept. This can then be transplanted into a concert setting, and we have done this on two out of our last U.S. tours.

This program is more of a mood program than those we have performed before; instead of instant gratification, the audience is taken on a journey through many different sounds and musical colors. In the second half, we sing some of our trademark, pop arrangements.

Weekender: How did you get involved with the group or how does one become part of the King's Singers?

Gabbitas: A new member joins the group only when an existing member decides that it is time to leave. I came from an unconventional route as practicing lawyer ... but I always kept up my singing.

Others have come from the world of professional singing, whether opera, choral, oratorio or other, and some have been fresh out of college or conservatoire. The one thing we all have in common is our background in the great cathedrals of England, starting singing as boy choristers at age 7 or 8.

Weekender: The King's Singers perform plenty of contemporary pop and rock tunes. Are there any artists whose popular music makes an especially wonderful transition into the world of a cappella singing?

Gabbitas: The majority of today's pop music is transient. We use the great singer-songwriters -- people like the Beatles, Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Queen, The Beach Boys and Paul Simon. Their music has stood the test of time, and that's because it's so good that it crosses the generation gap. It's hard to see many of today's artists lasting so long in the charts, and so we don't arrange it for our forces.

Weekender: What is the goal of a group like the King's Singers? To educate, enlighten or to entertain? Or is it to become pop stars?

Gabbitas: All of the above, apart from the pop star statement. We would never want to be pop stars for the reasons given in my answer before: Pop stars are transient and for the moment only. The King's Singers have been going for nearly 40 years, using the same ideas throughout that history. People want to be entertained, educated, enlightened and inspired by musical performance. We like to think that we do all these things.

Weekender: In pop and rock bands, one member of the band is often the "funny" one, another is the "serious" member and yet another is the "bad boy" of the group. Does the same hold true for the King's Singers?

Gabbitas: Inevitably, we all have our own individual personalities, and yes, there are a couple of us who are hilarious on stage, and others who are funnier off stage. A group like the King's Singers needs some serious members, otherwise it descends into slapstick. I like being the "straight guy," but when the occasion demands I can pull out a joke or two. None of us is a "bad boy" -- we're British, don't forget.

Posted by acapnews at February 3, 2007 12:08 AM