This is not your father’s a cappella singing group.
Or, for that matter, even the group formed by your twenty-something cousin in Provo.
The Queen’s Six, a male vocal sextet based out of Windsor Castle in England, is crossing the pond for a concert next week at Holy Family Catholic Church in South Ogden. Sponsored by Ogden Symphony Ballet Association, the concert features — according to the group’s website — everything “from austere early chant, florid Renaissance polyphony, lewd madrigals and haunting folks songs, to upbeat jazz and pop arrangements.”
Simon Whiteley, a member of the group, insists that The Queen’s Six is nothing like the other a cappella groups you’ll meet here in the States.
“I think we are quite different,” he said in a recent telephone interview from Windsor Castle. “Especially compared to American a cappella groups. There’s a very British slant to what we do. We’ll do some American pop and jazz, but they’re British arrangements. And you mix that with these Renaissance songs from 500 years ago and it makes for a different kind of experience.”
The Queen’s Six features baritones/basses Whiteley and Andrew Thompson, tenors Nick Madden and Dominic Bland, and countertenors Daniel Brittain and Tim Carleston. The six men, who are lay clerks and live on the grounds of Windsor Castle, make up half of the adult singers in the Choir of St. George’s Chapel. That larger choir, which has been in existence since the 1300s, also features a number of boy choristers. The choir regularly sings in the presence of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.
As part of the perks of the job, these lay clerks — all professional singers — live at Windsor Castle with their families.
“It’s a huge privilege,” Whiteley said.
The Queen’s Six was formed in 2008, on the 450th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth I.
“We’re actually named after Elizabeth I, not the current queen,” Whiteley explains.
As part of the larger St. George’s Chapel choir, the members of The Queen’s Six provide music at eight church services a week — three on Sunday, and an evensong service the other days of the week, except Wednesday, their day off.
The heavy singing load can take its toll on the group’s voices.
“We do have to be a little careful with our voices,” Whiteley admits. “We try not to drink too much, eat healthily — and not get sick. I’m a bass, so my voice is more durable than the altos — which is a different kettle of fish.”
The group of six formed after sensing a need for a different style of music provided by the greater choir.
“Ten years ago, we realized there was quite a call for after-dinner entertainment — a little light music — and we’d always chuck something together at the last minute,” Whiteley laughed. “And it was never good.”
Also, in the chapel, the men sing only religious music, and they wanted an opportunity to perform some more modern pieces.
Whiteley admits that in the beginning there was a bit of a learning curve to transition from the sacred music of the choir to the more modern a cappella pieces of The Queen’s Six.
“There is a difference in performance of renaissance vs. close-harmony a cappella,” he said. “The difficulty is in learning how to sing both in the right style. Renaissance singing requires bigger acoustics, where close harmony is smaller acoustics.”
And Whiteley says different venues are suited for different music, acoustically speaking. For example, sacred music sounds “delightful” in a church, but the more modern songs don’t fare as well, according to Whiteley.
“It’s about getting that balance and knowing which pieces work for which venue,” he said.
Whiteley says the group tries to do a bit of research before a concert. They’ll use Google to do an image search of an upcoming venue to get an idea of things like venue size, capacity and acoustics.
“If it says we’re performing in a church, we know that’s fine because we’re used to singing in churches,” he said.
For Tuesday’s performance at Holy Family Catholic Church, Whiteley says The Queen’s Six will do a variety of different styles of music. They’ll preface each set of musical pieces with a brief introduction.
“We’ve made these intros a part of the show,” Whiteley said. “We very much like to make the audience laugh and entertain them. It really is about putting on a show, rather than just a concert. We not only want to give them high-quality singing and music, we want them to have a good time.”
The concert begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1100 E. 5550 South, South Ogden. Tickets are $35, available at symphonyballet.org or 801-399-9214.
Whiteley and the boys invite all who enjoy beautiful vocal harmonies and cheeky British humor to join them at the concert.
“It’s an incredible privilege to come and sing for you guys, and we’re very excited to be coming to Ogden,” he said.