Associated article: The King’s Singer’s Welcome Japan’s Reiwa Era at a special concert in Tokyo
World-renowned male a capella group The King’s Singers performed to a full house at the magnificent St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo on Thursday, July 11, to celebrate the new Reiwa era in Japan.
The audience, which included Her Imperial Highness Princess Hisako of Takamado, were impressed from the moment the group took the stage and performed the Japanese national anthem Kimi Ga Yo. The program then woven into British Royal Music, a musical tribute based on Empress Emeritus Michiko’s poem, the Beatles, and folk songs during a two-hour concert that captivated listeners.
JAPAN Before wanted to know what brought the King’s Singers to Japan and how they managed to organize this event. We caught up with band members Julian Gregory and Nick Ashby on July 10, the day before the concert, to find out more.
Celebrate Reiwa with beautiful harmony
When asked how the program was thought out, Gregory and Ashby explained that The Unifying Factor was the theme of celebrating the opening of the new Reiwa era with the beautiful harmony of the a capella group.
âOn behalf of The King’s Singers, we would really like to congratulate Japanâ¦. We think Reiwa – ‘beautiful harmony’ – couldn’t be a better name for this eraâ¦. Our hopes and good wishes for the future are very much with Japan, âsaid Julian Gregory.
But Ashby further explained how the meaning of the New Age name had significance for the group as a whole: possible. We’re just trying to find great songs. So this idea of ââthe Reiwa era is something that really resonates with us as a group ethic because it’s something that we are trying to achieve all the time. “
Royal and Imperial connections
The program reflected a tribute to both the Royal Family of the United Kingdom and the Imperial Family of Japan. But it turns out that The King’s Singers’ ties to the two countries are generally more direct than they seem.
The King’s Singers happen to hail from King’s College, Cambridge University, founded by Britain’s King Henry VI in 1441.
During this time, Japan’s long imperial tradition stretching back over 1,000 years has often found ways to tie in with British tradition. Current Emperor Naruhito, the 126th Ruler on the Chrysanthemum Throne, studied abroad at Oxford, for example.
Princess Hisako of Takamado, who attended the July 11 concert, studied at Girton College, Cambridge University, the same alma mater as King’s Singers Edward Button. Thus, all the members of the group were surprised by her impeccable English when they met her after the concert.
Prior to the concert, Gregory had expressed the incredible expectation of the six singers to perform in front of a valued member of the Imperial family: âIt is a tremendous honor to perform for the Princess. And we just hope that the common language of music transcends language barriers, and we hope that she enjoys our performance, our songs in close harmony and our selection of diverse music from the UK.
Personal connections and affection for Japan
The link with Japan is in a way embodied by Gregory, whose mother is Japanese. He explained how he had come to Japan on vacation since he was a child, and even expressed his interest in living in Japan in the future.
âHalf of my life was and is Japanese, I feel very strongly rooted in Japan,â he said.
The tenor, who still has family in Japan, explained how his passion has rubbed off on the other members of the group. He explained, âWhen we feel, when we feel the interest, the passions and the legacy of the other, then we are all interested in that. So the six of us are truly honored and delighted to be in Japan. “
The Japanese Choir and the A Capella Stage
For those who grew up with TV shows such as Joy (2009) and movies like Perfect (2012), it appeared that popular culture in the UK and US has shifted towards greater exposure to singing in general. The King’s Singers insisted that the level of musical culture in Japan was also very high, starting with the attitude of the audience.
âI would say the Japanese public are very attentive. They would be almost eerie silence during the performance, and that’s because they’re so deeply in tune with the music, âsaid Gregory.
Regarding the Japanese singing scene more generally, Gregory and Ashby agree on the very high level of choirs in Japan.
Ashby specially praised the Bach Collegium, a group founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki with the aim of presenting baroque music from Japan to the world.
But he also quoted amateur choirs: âA few years ago I worked with choirs in Shizuoka and sang solos for Mozart’s requiem with their choirs. It was greatâ¦ and a great community spirit for the choir.
Gregory added, “It’s always a pleasure to be in Japan, to experience the culture here, to share music with Japanese people who have a very deep understanding of music and the arts.”
Hopes for the future
So what awaits these young minds who hope to inspire people around the world to sing?
In the immediate term, the band members plan to continue their tour in Asia, as part of their tradition of spending seven months abroad while doing an average of 120 concerts a year.
Yet despite their busy schedules, members have already expressed their intention to return to Japan. A visibly excited Gregory explained, âWe know we’ll be in Japan in October of next year, so this will probably be the biggest Japan tour we’ve done in many years in terms of number of dates. We’ve been coming to Japan on tour every two years recently, and each time it seems to be more important and more exciting, and we know  will be, and we can not wait.
“Watch this place!” Ashby laughed.
In passing, the two members expressed the wish to carry out a karaoke competition with their fans – another tribute to the high level of choral singing in this country.
Fans could attend a slightly unorthodox a capella event in 2020. In the meantime, be sure to keep watching this space for more information on The King’s Singers’ upcoming Japanese tours.
Authors: Arielle Busetto, Mizuki Okada