Interview with Timothy Wayne-Wright of The King's Singers
Posted: July 04, 2017
As we prepare to attend the wonderful Kings Singers Summer School at Royal Holloway in London this July, we thought it would be a great time to catch up with one of the King’s Singers, Timothy Wayne-Wright, to find out a little more about this unique ensemble and what they have in store for us when we visit.
About The King’s Singers
The King’s Singers were officially born on May 1st 1968, formed by six recently-graduated choral scholars from King’s College, Cambridge. Their vocal line-up was (by chance) two countertenors, a tenor, two baritones and a bass, and the group has never wavered from this formation since.
The group has consistently been welcomed on the world’s great stages throughout its history – from London’s Royal Albert Hall to the Opera House in Sydney or New York’s Carnegie Hall – as well as being ambassadors for musical excellence at numerous significant global events.
Their love of diversity has always fuelled The King’s Singers’ commitment to creating new music. A panolply of commissioned works by many of the supreme composers of our times – including Sir John Tavener, Toru Takemitsu, John Rutter, Luciano Berio, Nico Muhly, Gyorgy Ligeti and Eric Whitacre – sits alongside countless bespoke arrangements in the group’s extensive repertoire. The group is determined to spread the joy of ensemble singing, and leads workshops and residential courses all over the world each season.
Timothy Wayne-Wright began his musical journey as a boy chorister at Chelmsford Cathedral, aged six and soon became hooked on magnificent choral music. His passion continued through his teenage years and after experimenting as a baritone, realised that being a countertenor was his real vocation. He began studying as a countertenor at Goldsmith’s College – part of the University of London – in 2001 and gained a Vocal Scholarship for postgraduate study at the Trinity College of Music in London. During this time, he was a Choral Scholar at The Royal Naval College Chapel in Greenwich, as well as singing for a number of vocal ensembles based in the UK, and in places of worship like The Brompton Oratory and St Paul’s Cathedral. In 2006, he successfully auditioned to become an Alto Lay Clerk at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after just two years there, was invited to audition for the prestigious King’s Singers. He has now been part of The King’s Singers for nearly eight years.
Timothy worked with the Vocal Manoeuvres Academy ensemble, Exaudi Australis, during The King’s Singers Summer School program last year and the group are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him again next month.
As we eagerly prepare for the experience, we thought it would be great to ask Timothy some questions on what life is like as a King’s Singer and what our Australian singers can expect…
Can you tell us a little about your performing role within The King Singers?
My role in The King's Singers is to sing the second countertenor role - the voice part with the second highest vocal range in the ensemble. My vocal part, in a similar way to both baritone parts, is often responsible for supplying the added notes to our signature close harmony chords. I work closely with Patrick, the first countertenor, but I also have to be flexible enough to act as the conduit between the falsetto sound and the lower four voices. For example, in some repertoire, like many of the wonderful madrigals we sing by Heinrich Schütz, the score demands a double soprano part, equal in their high ranges. However in other pieces we sing, notably a large amount of our close harmony repertoire, I have to work to a greater degree with Julian (the tenor) due to the low falsetto range of these pieces and create that aforementioned connection between the falsetto voices and those singing in chest voice. It's certainly a versatile role!
We are well aware that there is more to your role in The King Singers than that of a performer. Can you also tell us a little about your role offstage and how that adds value to the thrill we experience in performance?
I have a variety of offstage duties in The KS. One thing is for sure - this is not just a singing job! I look after our programme archive, which entails keeping a record of every single piece we sing on stage each night, which also encapsulates filling out the PRS (Performing Rights Society) forms so that all the arrangers and composers get paid! Also, I'm in charge of the KS music library - the 3,500 titles in our library have now, thankfully all been digitised, which makes my life a lot easier, but still, at the beginning of each term, I will send around all the necessary scans (in PDF form) to each singer. I work with Johnny and Chris B on the programming element to our KS life, too. When a promoter approaches our management with regards to booking the group for a concert, I will then sit down with my colleagues and work out a proposal for the promoter. Before the programme/s are sent through though, I pass them by the other members of the group for their approval too - an important step in the process! I also have the glamorous offstage job title of 'chief whip'! This basically means that I oversee everyone else's offstage jobs and make sure all admin deadlines are met - I suppose very similar to a Project Manager, really!
What are the key points that differentiate The King Singers from other ensembles?
In short - our sound. We pride ourselves on our blend, our versatility and our ability to entertain. The King's Singers unmistakable blend is based upon the ethos of vowel matching and the matching of vocal colours. Our versatility is echoed throughout our live concerts in which our flexibility as singers is highlighted - singing everything from Byrd to The Beatles! As entertainers we aim to move people. To provoke an emotional response is key to our success as musicians - whether that's laughing or crying, you'll be taken on a true musical and emotional journey at a King's Singers concert.
The King’s Singers are about to host another eagerly awaited Summer School at Royal Holloway in July, what can our Australian singers expect this year?
They can certainly expect the same busy schedule as last time, that's for sure! It's jam-packed full of ensemble masterclass sessions, pub quizzes and barbecues (in true Australian-style, weather-permitting!) but we also have a very special item on the agenda this year - a trip to Windsor Castle. Here the participants will get the opportunity to sing evensong (the evening service) at St. George's Chapel within the grounds of this magnificent Castle. This is particularly poignant for me, as before I joined The KS, I was a member of this Chapel Choir - spending two incredibly happy years living and working within the Castle grounds. It's a truly unique place and I'm sure they will all leave with lasting, happy memories of their time there.
What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s Summer School?
I'd have to say the opportunity to work with so many singers from around the world again. It's a very humbling feeling when we turn up on the first day and see all of these people from the four corners of the world, ready to be taught by us. It's a great feeling!
You have worked with our Exaudi Australis ensemble previously, what are the unique strengths of the group?
This is a very strong ensemble and Alison Rogers' hard work has certainly paid off. They are a polished ensemble with clear diction, good energy and a solid understanding of balance and blend.
What is your experience with Australian choral repertoire, how is it unique?
My experience with choral repertoire from Australia is not as extensive as I would like it be, but in saying that, the music that has been written for The KS by two famous Australian composers, Malcolm Williamson and Elena Kats-Chernin, is absolutely thrilling! Williamson wrote a very fun work called The Musicians of Bremen for The KS back in 1973, during their first ever tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1972. It was first performed in The Sydney Opera House and was very well received so I'm told! Kats-Chernin wrote a beautiful multi-movement piece for us called River's Lament in 2011 and we sang this back in that very same concert hall in 2012 when The KS returned to The Antipodes after a gap of almost 30 years.
What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions you see in this industry?
One of the biggest misconceptions or myths for me, is the necessity to be pigeon-holed as an artist. This happens especially in The UK - we seem to be obsessed with categorising musicians as 'classical', 'pop' or 'crossover'. The fact is, in The King's Singers case, we are none of these. We are not a true crossover group, nor are we solely 'classical' or 'pop' - we are simply The King's Singers!
Congratulations on recently becoming a father! How do you balance parenthood with a global performance career?
Thank you! It's very tricky to balance being a parent and being away from home for 200 days a year. The trick? Simply to have an incredibly loving, understanding and supportive wife at home. Also, I try my utmost to get as much admin and music-learning done on tour as possible, so that the moment I walk through that front door, I can be ready to start changing nappies!
We thank Timothy for taking the time to talk to us and are greatly looking forward to our visit soon!