You used to know them as the Canadian Tenors. Sorry, no more.
With their new CD release, Lead With Your Heart, the quartet has dropped its too-limiting first name – “Canadian.” Henceforth, please, call them just the Tenors.
The move is a brazen marketing gambit in the highly competitive pop-opera and crossover musical chessboard.
“They’ll always be the Canadian Tenors,” insists the group’s manager, Jeffrey Latimer. “But I want them to become accessible and loved in other countries of the world, and they have a better chance with the shorter name.”
“It feels like the change was a natural progression,” adds Clifton Murray, the newest member of the group (he joined in 2009, replacing Jamie McKnight). “People were already calling us that. But we’ll always be singing Canadian songs and telling Canadian stories.”
Indeed, Tenor Victor Micallef says, “when we appeared in August at the Cesky Krumlov music festival in Prague, the most popular number we did was Song for the Mira,” Allister MacGillivray’s Maritime folk song.
By any name, the four lads – from Newfoundland (Murray), Quebec (Remigio Pereira), Ontario (Micallef) and British Columbia (Fraser Walters) – are turning into a not-quite-overnight success story.
In five years, they have gone from performing in underpopulated church basements in remote Saskatchewan to entertaining the Queen – at this summer’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle. (En route, they were asked to sing God Save the Queen, a tune they had never performed; they spent the 40-minute limo ride to the castle rehearsing.)
They have opened for Bill Clinton four times, toured with David Foster and, after an impromptu performance at a Foster house party, were immediately booked to sing at the Emmy Awards. In Prague – as the first crossover act ever programmed into a festival for opera purists – they earned three standing ovations. They have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with Celine Dion, enlivened a gathering of G-20 ministers (how could you not?) and have sung the U.S. national anthem to 108,000 people in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. They are now performing or recording about 300 days a year.
“I think we’re at or near a tipping point,” allows Walters, the group’s de facto leader. “It used to be us saying, ‘Give us a shot, listen to our music.’ Now, people are opening the door for us and saying, ‘What’s the new repertoire?’”
This month, the Tenors embark on a three-month North American tour, beginning in Baltimore.
Latimer, their manager, attributes their higher profile to several factors, including the door-opening powers of fellow Canadian Foster, a galvanic force in the music industry, and a healthy, self-deprecatory irreverence onstage that reminds him of Victor Borge. The late Danish performer, one part concert pianist and two parts clown, convulsed audiences by deflating the solemn rituals of classical musical.
“My father used to take me to his shows,” Latimer recalls. “But all of Borge’s satire was underpinned by a phenomenal ability at the keyboard. It’s the same with the boys. They play around and then blow you away with their voices.”
The “playing around” takes many forms. At their G-20 performance, tuning up his guitar, Remigio filled a moment of silence by asking, “So, anyone here for the G-20?” It took a long moment for the joke to sink in.
In other ways, too, the group is attempting to differentiate itself from the Irish Tenors, the American Tenors, the Australian Tenors and comparable acts.
The Canadians do more crossover numbers (the new album includes Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Elton John’s Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and Bob Dylan’s Forever Young), they play instruments onstage, arrange and co-write some of their material, and have retained full creative control. Four songs on the new album are original or co-written compositions.
A pivotal moment was playing their new album for Foster, a notoriously tough audience. “He warned us,” Walters recalls. “He said, ‘I’m not going to love everything.’ So we played everything we’d recorded, 16 or 17 new songs for him. And what he particularly loved were original compositions. That kind of validation is career-changing.”
In fact, as a result, the Tenors now have a publishing deal with Universal Music.
Fun-loving cheek, joking around onstage, never taking themselves too seriously – that may be the winning formula, exploiting Canadianness without being called “Canadian.”
How crowded is the tenor marketplace? Consider a non-exhaustive list.
The American Tenors
Nathan Granner, Daniel Montenegro and Marcus McConico
The Irish Tenors
Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan
The Celtic Tenors
Matthew Gilsenan, Daryl Simpson and James Nelson
Three Mo’ Tenors
Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young
The Ten Tenors
An Australian group featuring Ben Stephens, Nathan Kneen, Scott Muller, Sebastian Maclaine, David Kidd, Luke Kennedy, Chad Hilligus, Jared Newall, Jordan Pollard and Keane Fletcher
Sébastien Izambard, Carlos Marín, David Miller and Urs Buhler
Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble
Paolo Libiran, Louie Abaigar and George S. Tagle