The King’s Singers will be performing to a sold-out Baldwin Auditorium on Friday, February 21. The British vocal ensemble will bring their distinct sound and unique repertoire, spanning everything from Renaissance magicals to early 20th century American hits.
The King’s Singers occupy an interesting crossroads in terms of musical style and audience interest. Recently, with "Pitch Perfect" leading the way, a cappella music has grown in popularity, particularly with younger audiences. While they are an a cappella group, The King’s Singers also maintain a classic British choral sound. This concert and the group’s recent tour have shown that they can still easily find an audience for their particular style of vocal music.
“The King’s Singers are entertaining, and they straddle that world between contemporary a cappella music and classical music,” Aaron Greenwald, Director of Duke Performances, said. “That gray space between a cappella and choral music is a really successful space.”
Greenwald programmed the King’s Singers as part of the Vocal Ensemble Series presented by Duke Performances. Although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of a pop a cappella series in the future, Greenwald emphasized that this series was quite different.
“This series is very clearly a classically-focused vocal series,” Greenwald said. “That’s not to say that a more pop-focused a cappella series would be a bad thing. That’s just not what this is.”
As evidenced by the sold-out performances by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Chanticleer, the Vocal Ensemble series has thus far been quite successful. The King’s Singers seek to add their own unique flavor to the series this Friday.
The six members of the King’s Singers range in age from 27 to 54 years old, attended different universities and are carefully selected through an intense, two-round audition process after being recommended to the group. The variation in the members' backgrounds provides for a group with a unique set of business talents in addition to a cohesive vocal sound.
“We each have a job in the group,” singer Jonathan Howard said, referring to each member’s role in the business side of the organization. “For example, I’m in charge of travel and scheduling. While there obviously is an age thing, the oldest isn’t boss.”
This process has allowed the group to travel relatively lightly. Although The King’s Singers have management all over the world, they go on tour as just a group of six without any extra staff. Recently, the ensemble has been touring behind their new album, "Great American Songbook," which contains popular 20th century hits such as ‘My Funny Valentine,’ ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Cry Me a River.’ At Duke, they will also be incorporating older, more traditional Renaissance music.
The broad variety of pieces being performed allows for The King’s Singers to appeal to classical music lovers as well as to those who appreciate more contemporary a cappella music.
“They would often do repertoire that nobody else was doing,” Rodney Wynkoop, Director of Duke Chorale and Chapel Music, said. “It could be arrangements of folk songs or renaissance music or early baroque pieces.”
The King’s Singers are bringing their talents to Duke at an excellent time for Duke Performances and the surrounding community. While this show has sold out, there is still a distinct lack of student tickets purchased. Wynkoop and Greenwald both hope that this series can begin to change that.
“Given that this is a relatively new kind of programming on campus,” Wynkoop explained, referring to the Vocal Ensemble series, “It will potentially make some people aware of this kind of performance that weren’t aware before. It at least might make it visible to some people who may have not seen it in the past.”
Greenwald adds that this series has been outstanding thus far, selling out often and attracting rave reviews.
“This is the first year we’ve done this series, and it sold incredibly well,” he said. “Lots of people sing in civic choirs or church choirs. There’s just a real appetite for this kind of vocal music.”
He adds that this sort of series might be one of the few, if not the only one, that exists in the area. The King’s Singers seem to have recognized and capitalized on that fact.
“Performing at Duke isn’t a difficult decision to make,” said Howard. “There’s a lot of musical appreciation at a university that has such a storied history.”
Ultimately, the best advice for those who have yet to make it out to a show hosted by Duke Performances, particularly in the Vocal Ensemble Series, comes from Howard himself.
“Do everything. Even if something’s really strange, do it,” Howard said when asked what he had learned from joining The King’s Singers. “Even if it’s not what you expect, give it a go.”
The King’s Singers will be performing at Baldwin Auditorium on Friday, February 21. The show is sold out. For more information, visit the Duke Performances website.