It’s unusual to attend a concert in the summer that begins with Christmas songs, but Canadian vocal group The Tenors were shooting their fourth PBS television special, The Tenors – Fan Favorites, in early June. The show premieres in August without the festive repertoire, but will be edited for a version closer to the holidays. The airdates vary per market.
The multi-platinum-selling group, now a trio consisting of Victor Micallef, Fraser Walters and Clifton Murray, filmed the concert over two nights, June 6 and 7, at the opulent century-old Edwardian-stacked Elgin Theatre in Toronto.
“When we came together for this fourth PBS, we wanted to do something over the top, collecting those songs that everybody’s like, ‘You gotta do that again,’ or ‘We want to hear you do that.’ We were like, ‘What if we do a whole show of those songs, those energetic, keep-the-people-on-the-edge-of-their-seat kind of songs and mix it up from one genre to the other?'” Walters told Billboard backstage after the first show.
“It’s funny because when you’re onstage and you’re singing, it’s like a sports car — you’re changing gears so fast from a pop song to like ‘Nessun Dorma’ to like Smokey [Robinson], but over the years we’ve managed to find that balance with the songs, and I think for the audience the time passes really quickly for them because it’s never the same.
“We’re having a blast up there, we truly are,” he added. “All the songs that we chose, we love. It’s not like it gets old for us.”
Against a twinkly backdrop, under chandeliers and a Christmas wreath (the only obvious “it’s Christmas” decoration), The Tenors — joined by a band and orchestra — began the TV shoot with “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “O Holy Night.”
Micallef later told Billboard “it’s is a good opportunity for us to share songs from our new Christmas album, Christmas Together.” The holiday album is their second; 2009’s The Perfect Gift is still their bestseller, “the gift that keeps on giving,” they like to say.
Then the wreath was removed and the trio continued with such covers as Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” the rousing Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Each member got their moment to shine; most touching was Micallef’s with a story about his late dad, while his mother was in the audience.
“A lot of great artists that we admire from a distance have always said to keep growing, to have longevity, you have to keep re-inventing yourself; you have to keep pushing your comfort levels, your creativity, and, for us, we’ve been known to sing those ballads; but as we grow, so does the energy in our live show,” said Murray.
“We keep adding these great songs like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and the Smokey Robinson medley and there’s a lot of upbeat energy now. Certainly, there’s those moments of pause and reflection that are really powerful, but there’s intense hills and valleys and we stretch our wings wide and include more genres like rock and pop. It really comes from the core of who we are as artists.
“We were all in rock bands growing up, singing in gospel music and musical theater, and classical. The music choices come from who we are as artists and we get to express ourselves more fully now as we’re making the decisions and it’s really come from the reactions of our fans from the live show. This is a culmination of the greatest moments from our live shows over the years and some new tunes.”
Tickets for both tapings were sold to the public for a minimum donation of $10 (CAD) and raised $20,000 for the Toronto Strong Fund, which to date has raised $3.4 million for the victims of the April 23 van attack that claimed 10 lives and injured 16.
“It’s the type of thing that you hear in different parts of the world and you don’t think it’s going to hit your city or a city in Canada and it was a shock,” Murray told Billboard of the tragedy. “It’s amazing what Canadian people do to pull together, to be together in moments like that, and this is just our part.”
The Tenors, who have performed for Queen Elizabeth II, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and for 300 people inside the Igloo Church in Inuvik, will be touring North America this October, then heading right into a Christmas tour.
“We don’t just sing songs, we arrange them, we create what’s happening in the orchestration and the vocals, so we live it truly, and tonight you heard all covers because that’s what we wanted to do for PBS, but we’re writers as well,” Micallef pointed out.
“There’s a lot of originals on that album [Christmas Together] and [2015’s] Under One Sky, the previous album. That’s something that we are proud of, our writing, our arranging. When you live with a song that closely, they’re always a part of you. Songs that we haven’t done for a while, when we pick it up, it’s like, ‘Okay, there it is’ — except when you forget the words to like, ‘My Way,'” he quipped.
“Or the dance moves tonight,” added Murray.
Watch the PBS special to see if they kept the “My Way” flub and dance moves in.