This is the fifth year that Simon Carrington, founding member of the King’s Singers and beloved voice teacher, leaves his summer home in France and comes to Kansas City to spend a week with his namesake Simon Carrington Chamber Singers.
Superb, hand-picked singers from all over the country spend a week with Carrington, fine-tuning their craft and absorbing his expertise. After a week of intensive rehearsals and workshops, they present two concerts to the public. This year the concerts will take place June 14 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral and June 15 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lawrence.
Simon Carrington Chamber Singers have 24 singers, said Amy Waldron, executive director and co-artistic director of the group. “That’s sort of Simon’s magic number, 24. But Simon also spends time with some of the area’s most gifted high school singers.”
This year’s high school group has 36 students.
“That’s because we have a hard time turning away devoted, talented kids,” she said. “It started out small, but each year it’s gotten incrementally bigger.”
The students will join SCCS to perform a couple of pieces on the program, which this year is called “Soul Mates.”
“It’s material from long ago paired with material that pays homage to older pieces,” Waldron said. “So we have (William) Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum’ and ‘Laudibus in Sanctis’ paired with Steven Stucky’s ‘Whispers,’ which incorporates Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum.’ Another pairing is (Henry) Purcell’s ‘Thou Knowest, Lord’ paired with Dominick DiOrio’s ‘Ode to Purcell,’ which was written for our composition competition last year. Simon just loved it, so he wanted to do it this year.”
The annual competition was the brainchild of Lee Hartman, president of the SCCS board. This year’s winner is “O Magnum Mysterium” by Daniel Elder.
“I could just tell by the eighth notes at the beginning that he was creating an organized chaos, a mystery. I’m really excited to hear it,” she said.
The competition “has turned out to be an exciting focus for the choir and for me,” Carrington said. “Last year we went wild with a piece for choir and prerecorded sound, but this year’s piece is more traditional but no less imaginative. I confess to being tired of the endless block chords of so much contemporary choral writing and was impressed and refreshed by Daniel’s masterful handling of a variety of textures and individual lines.”
Emphasizing new music is one of the hallmarks of the group. Hartman, who is himself a composer and music critic, especially appreciates Carrington’s openness to new music.
“I love how Simon delves into pieces from the canon that have unjustly fallen out of favor,” Hartman said. “But he also treasures and values new music and doesn’t just pay lip service to it. As a composer, I know that choral conductors gravitate to pretty pieces in the Ola Gjeilo-Morten Lauridsen-Eric Whitacre vein because they feel that if they are going to do ‘new’ music, they at least want to give the audience something that’s inoffensive and won’t challenge the singers too much. That’s fine, but there is a whole spectrum of music that is equally gripping and deserving of ears.”
But Carrington also likes to drop in crowd-pleasers from his King’s Singers days.
“If we are permitted an encore,” Carrington said, “we will end with one of Paul Simon’s greatest songs in an arrangement made for the King’s Singers, which I have always wanted to perform with a choir: ‘Some Folks Lives Roll Easy.’”
Unfortunately, financial concerns are threatening the future of the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers, said Waldron, who is stepping down as executive director July 1.
“It’s exciting to be able to bring in all these great singers from all over the country and fly Simon here. And it makes such a great product, but it’s really difficult to fund,” she said. “The artistic side of things is every bit what I hoped it would be way back when, and in fact has surpassed all expectations, but it’s hard because we only meet once a year. We’re pretty unattractive to corporations and entities who want their names in a program more than once a year. It’s been a real battle.”
Ticket sales are the group’s primary source of income, Hartman said.
“We’re fortunate to have the generous backing of the Missouri Arts Council and other local granters that we couldn’t function without, but so often that money is tied up in matching funds,” he said. “It’s really a cash flow problem. We aren’t lacking for attendance, interest or artistic excellence — just in secure, stable funding.”
If the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers can find that money, they have big plans for next year.
“We’ll be honoring the centenary of the start of World War I with Jeremy Lillig’s ‘Theatres of War,’” Hartman said. “It’s going to be similar to his ‘Darwin Project’ that the Friends of Chamber Music staged in 2011. We’ll feature actors, music and multimedia and provide all the music with pieces written during and about World War I and new works commissioned on World War I poetry. Since Kansas City is home to the only national World War I monument, we’re hoping that this project will bring new audiences to us and foster new collaborations.”
But it all depends on community support.
“If there are artistic people in Kansas City that have experience in accounting or have experience in development, those sorts of things, and are looking for board positions, we have the spot for them,” said Waldron.
WHEN AND WHERE: 7:30 p.m. June 14 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St. and 7:30 p.m. June 15 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway, Lawrence.
COST: $10 to $25.
INFO: SimonCarringtonChamberSingers.org. Tickets will also be available at the door.