King’s Singers return to Boulder with music familiar and new

‘Christmas with the King’s Singers’ will be December 8 in Macky Auditorium

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Frances Marshall

Pat Donnachie can hardly wait to get back onstage. With an audience. In Boulder.

As a member of the King’s Singers, Dunachie was accustomed to traveling and performing about seven months out of every year. And then COVID hit and—nothing. 

“We ended up with two concerts after the 110 we had expected [in 2020], which was really tough,” he says.

Not that the time was wasted. The members of the group worked on details of their business, they presented online concerts from several churches in England, posted songs with the sheet music so people could sing along, and did charitable work for The King’s Singers Global Foundation.

But once the tours started again in September, Dunachie says, “it felt like life was back to normal. And in December we return to the States for a Christmas tour, which I think is a real sign that life is back to normal, and we can get our woolly hats and scarves on. That will feel like normal!”

Early in the 2021 Christmas tour the King’s Singers will appear at Macky to present “Christmas with the King’s Singers,” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8. The program will be drawn partly from the group’s latest CD, “Christmas Carols with The King’s Singers.” It will feature some familiar music, including “The Christmas Song” by Mel Tormé and “Ding! Dong! Merrily on High,” as well as some that are less known—unison chants to introduce each half of the concert, “The Quiet Heart” by June Collin, and others. 

“At Christmas time, particularly given the year that we’ve just had, what we’re trying to offer is comfort, familiarity, coziness, and that feeling which is called “Chistmassy,” Dunachie says. “And so [the concert is] a chance to celebrate not just Christmas music per se, but the phenomenon of coming together.”

Some of the Christmas songs will need no introduction. “I don’t think anyone needs to talk about ‘The Christmas Song’ by Mel Tormé,” Dunachie says. On the other hand, “the section called ‘Celebrations in England,’ there’s some gems in there which I didn’t know before recording the album. ‘The Quiet Heart’ by June Collin, and ‘Balulalow’ by Jamie Burton are absolutely beautiful pieces.

“‘Balulalow’ is the first track on the album, and it’s the perfect opening track. It starts on a single unison note that all six of us sing, and it spreads out bit by bit into beautiful, luxurious harmony. It’s a real treasure.

“’The Quiet Heart’ by June Collin is a really simple song in two verses. She’s a composer who worked for the Salvation Army, and they have a musical tradition of their own. And I think the message is really beautiful, all about the calm and stillness at the point of the arrival of Christ in the nativity story. It’s not trumpets and fanfares, but a quiet, understated scene in which He arrives.”

One section of the program features songs that have no particular connection to Christmas at all. “Finding harmony . . . “ has three pieces: a song by the Estonian composer Urmas Sistak; “If I Can Help somebody” by the African-American composer Alma Anderson, a song that Martin Luther King Jr. first heard in Denver and later quoted in his sermons, and that was sung by Mahalia Jackson on a recording of King’s favorite hymns; and the well known Mexican popular song “Cielito lindo.”

“The whole point of that little section of the program is songs that are really well known in communities around the world,” Dunachie says. “We were talking about how Christmas is a time of coming together and so we picked these three songs from different countries where, in [each] country everybody knows all the words—it’s in the DNA of the country.”

The final portion of the program, called “Music for Festive Cheer,” will bring out the most familiar of the Christmas songs and offer everyone a good time. “That will be our excuse to do some fun stuff, the likes of ‘Jingle Bells,’ and some of the more silly stuff that we do,” Dunachie says. “There’s definitely a handful of real classics, where we’ve done it a million times.”

For those pieces, it’s good that Boulder is early in the tour, he says. Later on “there’s some that you get halfway through and you think, ‘I have no idea what I’ve been doing the last few minutes.’ You can wake up and realize ‘I’m supposed to be singing my solo in a few measures!’”

At the same time, that kind of familiarity bodes well. “They’re some of the best pieces, because they’re the ones that have stood the test of time,” he says. “People really love to hear them.

“They never lose their magic.”

On the bill: Christmas with the King’s Singers. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 8

Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant Street, #285ucb, Boulder. Tickets: tickets.cupresents.org/2366

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