VOCES8’s Barnaby Smith talks power of music, music foundation, and long-awaited Boston concert debut

Driven by a Capella inspiration such as The King’s Singers and Manhattan Transfer, dynamic, internationally-renowned vocal group, VOCES8 will make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut following Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall at 8 p.m.  Mastering a variety of music genres, this multi-talented British octet has toured around the world and after the tremendous success of their previous album, Winter, they are now working on a new album.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about his extensive music background, VOCES8 charitable foundation, and their first appearance in Boston, which is a destination that has been on their bucket list for a long time.  Click here for more information and for tickets to their upcoming Celebrity Series of Boston debut.

Jeanne Denizard:  You are known for your work in Choral, Baroque, Classical, and film genres.  What first attracted you to music and what led you to pursue a music career?

Barnaby Smith:  I started singing at age 3 because my parents used to run an amateur music group. We did concerts once a month up in the rural North of England. Despite crying from the beginning to end of my debut solo at just age 4, I went on to love making music.  So my parents sent me for an audition to be a Chorister at Westminster Abbey.  I passed, and left home to sing in the Abbey choir at age 8 and never looked back.  The choirboys are aged 8 to 13.  We used to sing 4 hours a day 6 days a week, and by the time you have done this for 5 years, I think singing is in your bones. It was an incredible opportunity at such a young age and instilled a sense of such great enjoyment that I never wanted to stop.

JD:  Were you always interested in those specific genres or was it another music genre that first grabbed your attention? 

BS:  There is something special about experiencing the sound of the human voice live in the room, and that is what has always grabbed me about choral music. When someone sings to you, you get a sense that you connect with them on a very deep level, like they are sharing something very personal with you.  You can really see deep into their soul. If you then consider that choral music uses multiple singers and that these singers work together to create beautiful harmony as well, then I can’t imagine ever enjoying anything else more. I feel so grateful to be able to take part in such an activity as my job.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  VOCES 8 can be heard regularly on the radio and also involved with the charitable music foundation, VOCES Cantabiles Music.  Please tell me about that.

BS:  When we founded the group in 2003, we wanted to sing concerts, but we also felt so fortunate for the upbringing in music that we had been afforded, we wanted to give something back. For this reason we also formed our own charitable trust called the VCM Foundation. We made it our mission to get as many young people singing as possible. If children are encouraged to use their voices, it inspires inner confidence to be heard and communicate. Music is also a wonderful thing for young people to experience and will help them appreciate the world around them.

Since we began our work, we have spent a decade researching and writing The VOCES8 Method, a set of musical games and exercises that are designed to work the brain in a way that will help children to develop their linguistics and numeracy skills.  The method is also designed so it is broadly applicable in a class of 6 or group of 600. We preach this method everywhere we go because everyone has a voice and it is free to use your voice, so all children should be encouraged to get involved, experiencing music, and get creative. The VOCES8 Method book is published by Edition Peters and since its publication, has been experienced by over 500,000 children across three continents.

We are also now fortunate to run a centre of singing excellence in a beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren who also built St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Our centre is called the Gresham Centre and our Foundation is based there. It is in the heart of London and we always encourage any choirs visiting London to get in touch with us in the hope that we can extend them an invite to discover the incurable acoustic of the building and meet and sing with us.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston.

 

From Renaissance to pop music, Barnaby Smith talks VOCES8’s exciting Celebrity Series of Boston debut

Sometimes a great sound is born out of friendship.  In the days following Valentine’s Day, Celebrity Series of Boston is proud to present British octet group, VOCES8, a renowned a cappella group that has toured all over the world and tackles a variety of genres from Renaissance to contemporary pop music.  They will make their Boston debut on Wednesday, February 15 and 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about how the group was formed, its music roots, and what is in store for their exciting Boston debut.  Click here for more information on VOCES8 and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  This is British octet group, VOCES8’s Celebrity Series of Boston debut.  Which songs are you most excited about sharing with Boston?  How do you select the songs you perform?

Barnaby Smith:  We are excited to come to Boston for the first time as a group because we know what an incredible city it is for the arts.  I am excited to sing our Renaissance Polyphony because Boston has such a wonderful tradition for early music, and I always find it thrilling to sing this specialist style of music to a knowledgeable audience.

We choose our songs in a number of different ways. Often festivals ask for specific repertoire or programme their festival on a specific theme, which guides us in uncertain directions. This is mainly true for the classical repertoire. As Artistic Director, I then listen to a lot of music and select songs I think the group will sing well or fit a theme I am working on for programming. Group members can make suggestions for all genres of music, but our pop and jazz rep is chosen a lot more by the members and arrangers of the group who might have ideas for great songs they think would work well for our voices and specific lineup. It’s always a collaborative process, and one of the exciting parts of my job as artistic director is to glue all the moving parts together into one great vehicle.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  What inspired you to put this group together in 2003 and how did the group members meet?

BS:  All the original members were in the RSCM’s Millennium Youth ChoirRSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir in the UK.  When we all got a little old to be in the choir anymore, my brother Paul and I decided that we’d still like to see all our friends from choir during the school holidays, so we set up singing sleepovers. We’d all get together on Friday, rehearse on Saturday and sing a concert on Sunday. Everyone had to sleep on the floor of our parents’ house and we’d have a good party somewhere along the way too.  It all began out of friendship and our enjoyment of singing together.

We then got invited to a choral competition in Italy in 2005. The competition offered to pay our flights and accommodation to go to Italy for a week. We thought it would be a great holiday, so off we went without doing too much rehearsal or expecting much. When we arrived, it turned out to be a very serious competition. We rallied, did three days of intensive rehearsal, and somehow won the competition. The rest is history.

JD:  Is there a standout or unconventional song that was particularly challenging that you surprisingly share in your repertoire? 

BS:  In our programme in Boston, I am going to select The Luckiest.  The Luckiest is a song originally by Ben Folds who sings it solo at the piano. We have had to turn that into an eight part piece of choral music. It requires the singers to perform with perfect blend and also for us to find a very varied collection of colours to paint the wonderful text. The interesting thing about it and the reason I am proud of the group is that I hope it sounds easy when we sing it  I hope we’re a little like the Swan who is kicking furiously under the water but looks so elegant above it as he glides along. I think this is the ultimate test for a group’s technique and I am thrilled with how accomplished we have become at performing that particular song.

JD:  How did you decide on your sound?  Having toured all over Europe at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, was there one that you couldn’t believe you were onstage at?

We grew up listening to some of the great a cappella groups such as the King’s Singers, The Swingles, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Real Group which has always inspired us. We wanted to achieve the same technical perfection as these groups, but create our own sound so we chose a unique line-up with two females and six male singers. We have two countertenors who sing alto, a very British choral style. When we put the eight voices together, it creates quite a unique concoction. We work very hard without technique to be able to blend this sound.

We have been very fortunate to sing in many incredible venues across the world. Often I have to pinch myself!  Perhaps most recently would be our Christmas concert in Tokyo Opera City. It is a concert hall with a wooden ceiling as tall as a cathedral. It’s an incredible space.  Sometimes I think we take for granted the wonderful spaces we get to sing in. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to take a photo documentary of every hall so that I can remember them in years to come.

See VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m.  Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

‘Wicked,’ ‘Something Rotten,’ & ‘Finding Neverland’ part of Lexus Broadway in Boston’s new season

Rolling in the New Year with a comedy behind the birth of the first musical, Lexus Broadway in Boston blends beloved, Tony award-winning classics and enthralling, contemporary musicals full of mystery and magic.  Lexus Broadway in Boston offers a sensational, dynamic combination of shows kicking off with a humorous look at the birth of the musical with Something Rotten to the stage adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s birth of Peter Pan with Finding Neverland.  All productions are held at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for a closer look at upcoming shows, tickets, and how to become a season subscriber.  Like Broadway in Boston on Facebook for updates.

Alternating from the 90s to the 1590s, the musical comedy, Something Rotten, delves into the height of Shakespeare’s time as two brothers discover the key to success may be a musical.  Songs include Welcome to the Renaissance, Hard to Be the Bard, and It’s Eggs.  Something Rotten will take place from Monday, January 16 through Sunday, January 29.

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Touring cast of musical comedy, ‘Something Rotten’

Set in tumultuous pre-World War II Germany and with classic numbers such as Maybe This Time and Willkommen, enter the Kit Kat Club for the classic musical, Cabaret.  Full of raucous songs and outrageous choreography, The Roundabout Theatre Company presents this musical classic to celebrate their 50th anniversary from Tuesday, January 31 through Sunday, February 12.  Cabaret contains mature content.

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The cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour of ‘Cabaret’

A murder-mystery set around a brilliant fifteen year-old boy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a Tony award-winning play based on Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel of the same name.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time takes place from Tuesday, March 7 through Sunday, March 19.  This show contains adult language and themes.

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Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone & the cast of the touring production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Tony award-winner of 2015’s ‘Best Revival of the Musical,’ revisit Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sweeping, romantic musical classic, The King and I.  This captivating musical explores the extraordinary relationship between the King of Siam and a British schoolteacher featuring the classic numbers, Hello Young Lovers, I Have Dreamed, and Shall We Dance.  See The King and I on Tuesday, April 11 through Sunday, April 23.

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Jose Llana as The King of Siam & Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna Leonowens in ‘The King and I’ tour.

This summer, embark on a magical journey into Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie’s imagination with Finding Neverland.  Set in London, struggling playwright J.M. Barrie is looking for inspiration for a big hit when he meets a family so rich in creativity and make-believe, it may change his entire life.  Full of visually-stunning effects and touching drama, Finding Neverland arrives on Tuesday, August 8 and continues through Sunday, August 20.

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The cast of ‘Finding Neverland’ tour

Broadway in Boston also proudly presents season options Wicked, The Illusionists, and the farewell tour of Mamma Mia.  Click here for tickets to Lexus Broadway in Boston’s  new season.