In 1968, six choral scholars got together to sing, naming their group after the King's College in Cambridge, England. Forty-five years later, The King's Singers are still singing and touring internationally.
The group has a dedicated fan base in Utah, where King's Singers will perform this week at Dixie State College. The singers will perform many of their favorites, as well as selections from their latest album, the ambitious "Pater Noster: A Choral Reflection on The Lord's Prayer." Each divinely inspired song focuses on the individual clauses of The Lord's Prayer, and the result is nothing short of gorgeous.
Baritone Chris Gabbitas answered questions about the ensemble's longevity, most recent projects, and why Utah brings back special memories.
Do you have memorable experiences of performing in Utah?
It's always special when we're invited to Utah. We know we're going to an area [that] is a real choral hotbed, and we've been privileged to perform several times in Salt Lake City, both in Abravanel Hall and in the Tabernacle. Outside Salt Lake City we've been to St. George several times before, as well as Provo and Ogden during my time in the group. I suppose if I had to pick one standout occasion, it would be the Christmas when we were guests of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for their annual Christmas broadcast. For four nights we sang to 23,000 people, and the feeling of being surrounded by that amazing choir and orchestra, singing some of Mack Wilberg's wonderful arrangements, is something that will never leave me.
Where did the idea for "Pater Noster" come from, and how was it executed?
We realized that for the previous few seasons we'd been gradually adding several settings of the Lord's Prayer, in many different languages and styles, composed throughout the ages. Someone hit upon the idea of presenting a number of different settings, and then presenting other works in between that represented each phrase of the prayer, in turn. It sprang from a single meeting, but has become one of the programs of which I'm most proud.
When you do a two-night performance in one location, how much do you change the set list?
We will keep 75 percent of a program identical when we're doing multiple concerts. We do change programs frequently we have [more than] 3,000 pieces of music in our library but obviously it's helpful to have continuity of performance in order to create subtleties that only evolve over time. We do, however, always change the close-harmony group at the end of each concert. This is the group of pop, folk and spiritual songs that we sing from memory and which each member chooses in turn. So, you get six different choices and styles of group, depending on whose turn it is on that particular night.
Do you believe that audiences should be educated as well as entertained?
Absolutely. I think it's easy in this world to take the path of least resistance, whether it's with fast food, television or other entertainment. As with raising a child, you have to use a stick-and-carrot approach; give them something they know they like, but also attempt to broaden their horizons, allow them to experience (and, hopefully, enjoy) new things. I don't mean to sound patronizing at all, but it would be easy for all of us in the digital age to pick and choose exactly what we listen to, what we watch, and never ever branch out. If we can show our audience that it's all valid, and make amazing sounds onstage no matter what the genre, we truly believe people will expand their horizons and see all our repertoire for what it is: Simply, music. It's good for all of us we're enriching our lives each day by discovering new repertoire and putting it into our programs.
Is there a misconception about the ensemble that needs to be corrected?
None of us has true perfect pitch. Many people think that to be a good choral singer you need to have pitch. You really don't and in our job it would be a bit of a handicap. We don't sing "piano chords," where each note has an exact pitch and frequency. We fine-tune to each other by listening intently to the chord around us and making microscopic adjustments. If we stuck stubbornly to where we thought we knew the note was, our chords wouldn't ring and you'd never get a good balance, blend and harmonic language.
The King's Singers have a diverse repertoire. What are some of the group's favorites, and do they align with the favorites from the crowd?
We try hard not to let our personal favorites get in the way of what would make the best performance. Speaking personally, there are some songs I'd love never to have to sing again, but I know that one of them in particular is a crowd-pleaser and our audiences love it. So, it's worth doing. You have to remember that for some audience members this may be the only time they ever get to hear the group live.
Where do you see the ensemble moving/becoming over the next 40 years?
The essence of the ensemble has remained true to itself since the foundation of the group, and that's why we're still going strong after 45 years. There are other groups who have made a choice to change something about themselves and to move away from their roots. We've never wanted to do that because as the current members we understand and appreciate that the founding members hit upon something very special and worked incredibly hard to make it successful. The essential principles of The King's Singers will, I think, always stay the same, because it's still the benchmark by which all other a cappella groups are judged. We're incredibly fortunate to be the custodians of that tradition today and hope to hand the group down to the next generation of singers in as good a shape as we found it.
Like a prayer
The King's Singers will perform selections from their latest album, "Pater Noster," and other favorites.
When • Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 19-20, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Cox Performing Arts Center, 325 S. 700 East, St. George
Tickets • $20 at dixie.edu/concerts