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March 27, 2009

Tallis Scholars' music allows crowds to "space out"

Seattle Times (WA):

Ask Peter Phillips, founder and longtime director of the Tallis Scholars — renowned specialists in a cappella sacred music from the Renaissance — about the global appeal of the group's sound, and his unexpected answer could just as easily explain the attraction of Pink Floyd to teenage basement-dwellers in the 1970s.

"People can space out to it," Phillips says by phone from London. "It's subtle, otherworldly. It takes people out of rushing around, worrying over money." While some critics can expertly describe the aesthetics, dynamics and history of the Scholars' music, its rapturous draw, says Phillips, is best explained as an inherent quality.

"There are no instruments involved," says Phillips. "It's 10 singers performing music written for the church, by composers from all over Europe, in the 16th and 17th centuries. It's quite complicated music, sung in Latin, so it's not the words that attract people. Yet we play it in Japan, we play it all over world. It's how the music sounds that affects people."

Phillips created the Tallis Scholars in 1973. "I started this when I was very young," he says. "I was an organ scholar at Oxford, and decided I wanted to do this music. There was hardly anyone doing it then. I found fellow students who agreed to do concerts with me."

Those students were mostly choral scholars drawn from chapel choirs at Oxford and Cambridge. In time, the ensemble developed a reputation as one of the greatest interpreters of Renaissance sacred choral repertoire.

As Ted Libbey describes it in "The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music," the Scholars' "fame [rests] on a distinctive purity of tone that unfailingly illuminates the complex, interweaving lines of early polyphony." (Polyphony, in this case, is two or more voices, each singing an independent melody, yet harmonizing.)

Despite the odds against the Scholars' long-term success, Phillips has kept the group profitable while constantly reaching out to new fans. In 1981, the Scholars started a record label, Gimell, releasing more than 50 critically acclaimed albums.

"Interest has gone up slowly in our music," says Phillips. "Whole concerts of Renaissance sacred choral music were not normal at the time we started. Now there are more. My ambition is to make it mainstream, like a Beethoven symphony. I'm still working on it."

Posted by acapnews at March 27, 2009 9:27 PM


A cappella can be fun. It can also be funny. Check out a comedic take on the post-grad a cappella withdrawal syndrome in this brand new webseries. Don't hate the game, hate the vocal arrangement. Enjoy!

Posted by: Trevor at March 29, 2009 7:48 AM

So nice to see that someone else is interested in A Cappella Music.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Garment Of Praise Quartet at March 31, 2009 7:45 AM

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