Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Some of The Tenors’ best memories have been made around Christmas trees. During every holiday season with their own families in Canada. With the Obama family at the White House Christmas Tree Lighting. And this year, singing at the Rockefeller Centre Tree Lighting in New York City.
“So many artists want to be on that NBC stage. It’s international, it’s something we all grew up watching, we’ve had it on our calendar and wish lists for years and it’s actually happening,” says an excited Victor Micallef, who, with fellow Canadians Fraser Walters and Clifton Murray, comprise the award-winning group.
The magical moment at 30 Rock broadcast on Nov. 29th, in the midst of The Tenors’ Christmas Together North American Tour, spotlighting their new chart-topping album, Christmas Together.
“We have Verve, which is our Universal [Music Group] label in New York City, who loved the album. Dan Bennet, who is Tony Bennet’s son and manager, heads our label. He listened to the album and loved it,” says Vince. The opportunity to perform at Rockefeller Centre is “an extraordinary thing for our crew.” He believes, “It’s a testament to what we’ve done in the studio for the past year or so,” writing, arranging, singing, playing instruments and producing songs for the album. Blending I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony) with their own lyrics to create Santa’s Wish, The Tenors have crafted another hit that touches people’s hearts. In The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, 9 pm on Dec. 16th, Windsor-area fans can hear The Tenors sing about a boy spotting Santa disguised as a street musician. Victor’s young son is a cameo performer on the number that captures the mystery and joy of the holidays.
The concert’s play list is also featuring other festive tunes and some of The Tenors’ classical and contemporary pop music, including Lean on Me, You Are So Beautiful and Hallelujah.
The Tenors made certain Windsor was on their current tour schedule, recalling the reception their past concerts have received from “amazing” audiences. During one of their last Colosseum performances, the trio chose to film their globally popular PBS special, Under One Sky, in Windsor because they knew they could count on the audience’s great energy.
WL: Your group is returning to The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor on Dec. 16th. What is it about your Windsor audience that keeps you coming back?
Victor: “First of all, it’s very close to home. I’m from Toronto and have a lot of family in Windsor….A lot of our friends come and show up to the event. Windsor has always had a big heart when it comes to audience participation and just having a fun evening. It’s kind of a tradition that we head back to Caesars and celebrate with the people of Windsor. We’re really looking forward to it.”
WL: As a trio of tenors, you all have wonderful voices. How do you decide which of you is going to sing a particular part of a song? Do you draw straws? Arm wrestle?
Fraser: Have you heard of rock, paper, scissors? Not that way. That’s one of the fun processes in the studio. We usually start with 100 or more songs on a list and we work through different arrangements. It’s a great process to hear different voices on different lines and how to feature each person best. We’re always thinking about the harmonies and having new hills and valleys to a song and to an album. Sometimes it’s just very clear whose voice will really shine in a certain section. We also try to balance songs out nicely. We think there’s great representation on the album from every guy. There’s some great highlights that feature each person. We do spend a lot of time working on our sound and trying to have as many colours as possible for the listener to enjoy.
WL: The Perfect Gift, The Tenors’ first Christmas album, has been certified triple-platinum. Christmas Together, your new Christmas album, is scoring high on the charts already. What is it about making holiday music that feels different to recording songs for the rest of the year?
Clifton: There’s something about tenors and Christmas that have always gone hand in hand, certainly for this group. It’s the busiest time of year for us, we’re always on the road right up until Dec. 23rd. Those throwback nostalgic Christmas concerts – a lot of people want to come out and celebrate the holiday with the tenor repertoire. When it comes to making a Christmas album, we look back on our lives and we try and capture that feeling of what it was like to be a child at Christmastime: Those moments around the dinner table, around the Christmas tree, being with family and friends, at church….Bringing it down to 10 songs that capture those moments for us. This album is a collection of songs from the spiritual world, also some contemporary songs that we’ve written, and a few from that Rat Pack era….where Christmas seems to live forever. In terms of the differences of the two albums, this one is probably a little more upbeat, playful and energetic. But it still has those reverent, powerful moments, and subtle moments, as well. The beauty of having three different stylistic voices is you get to play and weave through different genres on the album. It really is a labour of love and when you finally put it out to the world and get the response that we have, you can’t help but feel proud of it.
WL: What is your favourite thing about the holidays?
Victor: “We always say our lives are quite busy being Tenors and being on the road all the time. Christmas is one time we black out on the calendar….to spend with family and slow things down.
I think a lot of people can relate to that because everybody’s lives have become quite crazy and hectic. At Christmas, you can dwell on those nostalgic moments with your family, remembering and being able to have a moment to tell those stories again. That to us is a very sacred thing, to be able to have that quality time at home celebrating something very special.
Two of us are fathers, all of us are married. Getting to see Christmas through our children’s eyes is something truly special. Clifton is practicing; he has a little puppy, so he sees it through his dog’s eyes! We have a lot of fun at Christmas. Usually we’re apart. The Tenors go to our respective homes.
We’re always sending pictures back and forth, whether it be Fraser’ daughter Hope around the Christmas tree or my son Zach or Clifton running down the street with his dog in the snow.
It’s a very special time for us to recharge the batteries and be with our families.
WL: The Tenors have multi-platinum sales, multiple No. 1 Billboard Classical Crossover albums and JUNO awards to your credit. Do you all remember hearing for the first time your own voice as a member of The Tenors, playing on the radio? What was that experience like?
Fraser: It’s about as good as it gets. After all the hard work and the years of time and energy that we put into it – we were all very dedicated to our craft growing up – we had different sort of avenues to becoming a Tenor but all those diverse experiences and backgrounds really add to the mosaic that is this group.
When we finally started to hear our music playing on a wider scale, it was quite a highlight.
We got a lot of support as well from PBS early on, some great coverage from the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Emmy Awards. Our albums started to get some love in Canada and the US on the radio, culminating in a number one Christmas song called When We Are Together, which is on this album, too.
It’s been amazing over the years to see those creations that we’ve worked very hard on in the studio. It’s such a different kind of energy when you’re working long hours. In the case of this album, in the heat of June and July in Toronto, you’re going into the studio and singing I’ll Be Home For Christmas. We decked out the studio with some Christmas decorations to get into the mood.
It’s a very sort of insular experience when you’re in the studio working away and trying different things to see what works best and then finally getting to release those songs to the world. To hear the response is just incredible. To be number one on the holiday chart in Canada and number two on the holiday chart in the U.S., I think we’re all so excited - and relieved - after all the hard work, but mostly just humbled and honoured to have that type of support.
WL: Whether playing for Queen Elizabeth, four American presidents or the Music for Mercy concert at the Vatican, The Tenors are often regarded as ambassadors for Canada. What does that honour mean to you?
Clifton: “That’s one of the highest honours that can be bestowed upon us as singers, to represent this great country through our ambassadorship and our music.
It means a lot and with it comes a great responsibility because we are so proud of this country and the reputation that it has around the world. So many people when they know we’re from Canada, they’re eager to hear our stories simply because of the country we come from. That’s a great feeling to have.
We’ve been a part of some incredible events, like the G20 and the Diamond Jubilee for the Queen.
It’s amazing to think singers starting out in our careers in different avenues, whether at the opera house or singing as a young boy soprano or myself singing around the campfire with my dad, to realize that this gift, this voice, can take us around the world to represent Canada in moments like these is truly a dream come true and we don’t take it lightly.
It certainly is a pinch me moment. What a great country to represent.
Something I think changed in a lot of us after the Olympics of 2010. We got to sing in the opening ceremonies. I think Canada as a whole had that pride a little bit more than maybe in the past.
We see as we travel this great country and as we travel the world all the great musicians coming out of Canada right now, all the great talent and music. You realize that music is such a prominent element of what it means to be Canadian….
You realize you are part of a great pedigree, a great history. We’re happy to be in it now and part of its future. It’s truly an honour.
WL: What can the audience look forward to when you bring your holiday show to Caesars Windsor?
Victor: We were just in the studio yesterday practicing a new dance routine. That’s something that some people have not seen The Tenors do. It’s fun, it’s a lot of working the brain in a different way for singers. It’s like rubbing your stomach and your head at the same time in two different directions. But we’re loving it. It adds a new element of The Tenors.
We’ve always sort of touched on the dancing thing. From our experience, singing on PBS, we did the Smokey Robinson tribute and that was the first time we were introduced to this whole dance thing, and it kind of stuck. So that’s new in our repertoire.
A lot of the songs that are on the album I think are songs that people grew up with but not necessarily would think of The Tenors when hearing them.
We reinvented these songs, with taking songs from the Eagles’ Please Come Home to showing our writing which we’re proud of. We have two songs that are being featured in Canada and the U.S. One is called Santa’s Wish and one is When We Are Together.
We’re very excited to get back on the road and share it with our Canadian audience, especially in Windsor. It’s tradition going back there and we’re excited to come out with a new Christmas show that will have elements of surprise in it.
In partnership with Plus One, The Tenors are donating $1 to MusiCounts, Canada’s music education charity associated with CARAS and the JUNO Awards, for every concert ticket purchased for the Canadian dates of their Christmas Together tour. Donations will help give children and youth access to musical instruments and equipment in their schools and communities across Canada.
Tickets for The Tenors’ Dec. 16th show at The Colosseum start at $30 and are on sale now at caesarswindsor.com.
The Canadian trio is renowned worldwide for their singing and harmonies. They also play instruments and write, arrange and produce their music. Top to bottom: The Tenors newest holiday album "Christmas Together"; owning the mic is Fraser Walters. Photo courtesy Tenors Music; tickling the ivories is Victor Micallef. Photo by Khoi Ton; busting a new dance move is Clifton Murray. Photo by Steve Jennings.