With platinum success in their home country with their self-titled debut album and ensuing The Perfect Gift holiday set, The Tenors–Clifton Murray, Fraser Walters, Remigio Pereira and Victor Micallef, formerly known as The Canadian Tenors—are off to a fast start now in the U.S. with their latest album Lead With Your Heart (Verve).
Released in the U.S. on Jan. 15 (it was released in Canada last October), the album debuted at No. 21 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart—The Tenors’ highest U.S. album debut to date. Additionally, the disc topped both Billboard’s Classical Crossover and main Classical album charts.
The quartet is now readying a 70-city North American tour supporting the album, beginning Feb. 1 with the Oregon Symphony in Portland and continuing through July. The vocalists, who also play instruments, are being backed by a five-piece band, to be augmented by local players as warranted.
Lead With Your Heart was already platinum at home when it was released here in the middle of intense promotional activity by The Tenors, including a performance of the National Anthem at a New York Knicks home game at Madison Square Garden–following a stellar one in Atlanta Jan. 13 before the NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks.
Other New York promotional activities the week of release included TV appearances on Good Morning America, Katie, Access Hollywood, The Better Show, Fox & Friends, CBS News Weekend, FOX Entertainment News, ABC News Now and WPIX Morning News.
The Tenors also did a LiveStream listening party on the album release date featuring a fan web chat/Q&A; as the day was the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they also visited The Children’s Storefront–an independent, tuition-free school in Harlem, and held a discussion/Q&A session with the school’s 5th-8th grade students and performed with the school’s choir.
That night they performed the second of two nights at The Cutting Room. They concluded the week at HLN’s Morning Express With Robin Meade.
Meanwhile, a PBS special with the group began airing in December. They have recently appeared, too, at The Dream Foundation Gala with Katy Perry, the tree lighting ceremony in Los Angeles for Nokia Plaza/KNBC, and the nationally televised American Giving Awards, and were the featured musical guests for LA Confidential Magazine’s 10th anniversary celebration.
Internationally, they have performed with the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Sting and Paul McCartney. They performed on The Emmy Awards show, and at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations from Windsor Castle.
So what is the key to the quartet’s enormous appeal?
“It’s a redefining of ‘tenors,’” states Micallef.
“People think ‘tenors,’ and in their minds it’s going to the opera, or classical music,” he explains. “But in reality, it’s a voice type: rock, pop, folk. Steven Tyler, Sting. It covers a wide range, and we’re bringing in four very different colors of tenors and make different harmonies, so people see us and leave the theater thinking we’re an entirely different group creating a different genre of music.”
The group came together in Victoria five years ago. Continues Micallef: “We had some years together, so it evolved in classical and pop as we learned how our voices responded to certain melodic lines. Now we arrange and know which voice works best in the right moment, and mixing pop and classical elements is a very important part of what the group is.”
He recognizes that there a number of groups in the classical crossover category, but distinguishes The Tenors for their “peanut butter and chocolate” lineup of two classical operatic tenors and two pop singers.
“We bend the genre,” says Micallef. “The pop guys have classical training as well and can adapt from opera to pop in three minutes without being uncomfortable. That’s a big part of who we are—being a chameleon in going from one genre to the other.”
The chameleonic nature of The Tenors is evident in Lead With Your Heart, which includes classic songs, modern tunes, and Spanish and French world music. It ranges from pop covers including Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” to “Amazing Grace” and the operatic warhorse aria “Nessun Dorma.”
“’Nessun Dorma’ to Elton John—and even the pop songs have big climactic endings!” says Pereira. And for the first time, he adds, the group has written songs for a Tenors album, while as usual, including a French song (“Journees d’innocence”) to represent French-speaking Canada.
The repertoire, says Micallef, was selected to display the group’s versatility.
“We hit the far spectrum this time as far as doing ‘Forever Young,’ and went even further into the pop realm in ‘World Stand Still,’ which we co-wrote, and is a radio song,” he says–positioning “Nessun Dorma” on the other end of the album’s stylistic spectrum.
“Another cool thing,” adds Walters, “is that for us growing up watching The Beatles, we recorded with the orchestra at Abbey Road!”
Pereira actually recalls “standing in front of the mirror with a tennis racket and big headphones being Paul McCartney.”
“We met [McCartney] in London, and he was the coolest guy!” Pereira reports. “He walked into the room and spotted us and gave us a smile and serenaded us with his guitar and we were just floored. Then after the sound check, he came off the stage and said hi. One of The Beatles! We were beside ourselves.”
It’s a long way, obviously, from “putting in hours playing 12 little communities in 14 days in Saskatchewan in a little rental car, selling 10,000 records without a label out of the car—and then getting a label and taking it to the next level,” says Walters. “We did small community theaters where the janitor was working lights night after night, learning our craft.”
“There was nothing to hide you!” adds Micallef.
Now, of course, The Tenors have a production worthy of a PBS special.
“There needs to be some kind of bend in the [classical crossover] genre,” reiterates Micallef, “or else it becomes wooden and static and you lose your connection with the audience.”
Pereira expands: “We mix opera with a pop sound and find a middle ground that suits the song.”
“And we like to have fun!” concludes Micallef. “Our music can be very serious and dramatic, but we have fun with the audience every night.”
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