Canadian vocal quartet The Tenors have opened up about member Remigio Pereira’s decision to alter the lyrics to Canada’s national anthem, and hold up a sign that declared “All Lives Matter” and “United We Stand” at the recent MLB all-star game in San Diego.
The group granted an exclusive interview to CBC News Network in British Columbia to address questions from reporter Ian Hanomansing.
As the other three members — Clifton Murray, Fraser Walters and Victor Micallef — said in their original statement after the incident, “It was something he decided to do alone,” Walters reiterated, apologizing “that that sacred anthem that we hold so dear was compromised and we don’t stand by his actions.”
None of the members mentioned or were asked whether Pereira’s belief in conspiracies theories and that the earth is flat — which he writes about at length on his social media accounts — contributed to his poor judgment and reasoning, and if this was a final straw.
But where does Pereira stand with the Tenors now? In the statement, the group said he had been dismissed until further notice. But in the CBC interview, Walters and Micallef (Murray was on a flight and unable to join) addressed the betrayal they felt by a member who started with them a decade ago.
“I don’t think we can see ourselves performing with Remigio again,” Walters said. “It’s a difficult question to answer so soon after and I think we might take a day or two to…”
“…figure things out,” Micallef continued. “But obviously after such a betrayal, not just to us but to the whole country — two countries — I can’t personally see myself standing on the same stage.”
The Tenors have performed “O Canada” for the Queen, President Obama and at a host of events from the Olympics to the NHL’s Winter Classic. Pereira decided to alter the anthem from the line, “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free” to “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great” and take a political stand.”
Walters said, “All those years of work, we saw flash before our eyes and wonder, ‘Wow, has one person’s action been able to possibly compromise what we’ve worked so hard to build?’”
The all-star game at San Diego’s Petco Park started off great, group members said.
“Right before the anthem, I looked over to [Toronto Blue Jays] Josh Donaldson and gave him a head nod and he gave it to me back. And I was like, ‘This is so awesome,’ and you become a kid again,” Micallef said. “You’re representing your country; you’re being there for the love of the sport and then that happens,” he said of Pereira.
Walters says, “There is also video that I’m sure will be released shortly of our rehearsal and there was great cheers after the rehearsal and, of course, the rehearsal went perfectly as planned, as all those other hundreds of anthems that we’ve done; there was no piece of paper; there was no changing of the lyrics. It was the standard English and French version that we’ve always done.
“There was no knowledge prior on our part; he did not ask permission and, in fact, after the fact — I don’t want to say exactly his words but if you were a fly on the wall, you would have seen three very, very angry guys in the room talking to Remigio and him saying, ‘Well, if I had asked permission, you would have said, ‘No.’”
When Remigio pulled the stunt, Micallef said, “We were so shocked and, at the time, we froze. We didn’t know what to do. You’re singing there; you’re programmed to just keep going because it’s the anthem, so what do you do?”
Walters adds, “We couldn’t hear what he was saying. He usually starts that verse in French … he took it upon himself to change those lyrics and we saw the video later. I didn’t know exactly what happened in the moment. But I saw a piece of paper go up and I couldn’t see what it said on the front but on the back it said ‘United We Stand’ and I had to look at the big screen Jumbotron to figure out what it said on the front, and it said ‘All Lives Matter’ and I knew immediately that this was a really unfortunate political or personal statement.”
Micallef adds, “And a political statement that the other three guys don’t stand for; don’t believe in.”
Micallef told CBC he felt “sick to my stomach” when they were walking off and Pereira turned to him and asked if he was okay. “Actually I’m not,” he replied.
The Tenors hashed it out in the green room for an hour-and-a-half, Walters said, “talking and maybe arguing at times and just trying to understand what happened and how that coveted opportunity that we’ve worked so hard to create was essentially hijacked by one person’s beliefs.”
Pereira’s show with esteemed instrumental guitarist Pavlo Sept. 28 at London, Ontario’s Aeolian Hall has since been canceled. On its Twitter and Facebook accounts, the Aeolian issued a statement: “The Aeolian is an organization which embraces diversity. We will not present or allow groups or individuals to use our facilities who either intentionally or unintentionally promote racism.”
Fraser Walters and Victor Micallef said they appreciate the outpouring of support that came after they released their original statement, but wonder about the fallout from Pereira’s actions.
“This is our livelihood,” Walters says. “We felt so grateful for this opportunity. Never once taking it for granted, just being incredibly thankful that all those years of hard work started to pay off and we started to come known as the National Tenors and being invited to do the Queen’s event and being able to sing for the President at the White House last year on a TV broadcast; we actually feel lucky that [the] broadcast wasn’t aired in the U.S. and they knew that ahead of time and we still do those gigs because it’s great; we love performing for Canadians; it still goes out to an international audience; there’s still amazing people in the audience — 40,000 strong.
“So it’s still a great opportunity, but we feel like it could have been a much worse backlash for us in the U.S. with some of the statements that were made. You asked what was worse: the anthem or the political statements or not knowing,” he said to Hanomansing, “and I think it’s all three. That’s why it’s so hard. That betrayal — how do you ever trust going back on stage and thinking anything can happen at any given time? We can’t get our heads around it right now.”