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The Queen's Six perform at royal weddings and daily church services and, this week, for the first time ever, in Canada.

The Queen’s Six, have you heard of them? What sounds like a mini rugby squad is actually a male vocal sextet whose members reside in Windsor Castle and regularly perform for the Royal Family. And although the a cappella singers get Elizabethan with it, they’ve been known to pull out moments of choral Nirvana and Burt Bacharach from their repertoire.

“There is a cheeky component to what we do, depending on the occasion,” says Simon Whiteley, one of the lads who hold down the sweet gig. “We employ a bit of that charming British manner in our performances.”

The group, formed in 2008 as part of the 450th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, is made up of members of the Choir of St. George’s Chapel. They perform at royal weddings and daily church services and, this week, for the first time ever, in Canada.

At St. James Cathedral in Toronto on Wednesday evening, the Queen’s Six will acknowledge Elizabethan-era hit-makers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, but also ham away in courtly style with a mash-up titled Say a Little Prayer When It’s Raining Men. Arranged by bass-baritone Whiteley, the medley involves one of the singers mimicking a mascara application to the rhyme of “wake up” with “makeup.”

“It tends to get a little giggle from the audience,” says Whiteley, speaking from Missouri, where the group played the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

But if the audience appreciates some cheek, would Elizabeth II be amused at hearing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit? “I can’t say we wouldn’t do that song in front of her, actually,” says Whiteley, whose haunting arrangement of the grunge anthem disguises its mumbling alt-rock origins. “I grew up in the 1990s, and while I was a fan of Nirvana, our version of the song was inspired by a cover by Tori Amos.”

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Members of the Queen's Six reside in Windsor Castle and regularly perform for the Royal Family.

The members of the Queen’s Six are all lay clerks of the chapel at the Queen’s preferred weekend residence, but Her Majesty is hardly an audience of one. In fact, the Queen is traditionally only present at Queen’s Six concerts held on the annual occasions of Easter Sunday and the velvet-robed Garter Day procession.

And although their concerts often begin with the complex harmonies of Byrd’s O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth, Our Queen, the singers (who are provided a modest stipend and a rent-free residence in Windsor Castle to share with family, wives and partners) do not have to swear strict allegiance to the Church or Queen.

“There’s no loyalty test,” says Whiteley, ”but we have to at least be sympathetic to the Royal Family, if not outright supporters, which we all are. As well, we’re all expected to be sympathetic to the aims of the Church of England.”

The musical tastes of the Royal Family have always been of keen interest to fans of the monarchy. It was once reported that the Queen was a fan of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, but that was too good to be true. In fact, she’s a Fred Astaire kind of gal, one in favour of hymns, show tunes and such classic Britannia as the Vera Lynn song The White Cliffs of Dover. In the BBC documentary Our Queen: 90 Musical Years, her taste in music was described as “mainstream, no airs and graces.”

As for the set lists of the Queen’s Six, the close-harmony brothers are as satisfied to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller as they are Thomas Morley’s Arise, Awake. “We love what we do for a living,” says Whiteley, “and we recognize that is quite rare today.”

Renaissance music and royal weddings? Contemporary pop and laughs? For this group, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The Queen’s Six perform at St. James Cathedral in Toronto on Oct. 24 (

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