At the end of an interview with The Telegram, Canadian Tenor Clifton Murray breaks into song.
“Nonstop, but I love it,” he sings in a perfectly pitched pop voice, referring to the group’s busy schedule.
The Tenors — “We’ll always be The Canadian Tenors, but on our new album we’re just The Tenors,” Murray explains — were recently in St. John’s for a few days as part of a promotional tour to promote their new record, “Lead With Your Heart,” released Tuesday.
Why did they choose St. John’s for the album launch? Because Murray’s mom told him to.
Murray, a native of B.C., has strong connections to Newfoundland and Labrador: his mother is from St. John’s and he’s been coming here his whole life, spending every second Christmas with his grandmother on Poplar Avenue. In 1983, at age four, Murray was baptized at Cochrane Street United Church, so when the group performed there during last Sunday morning’s service, it was extra-special.
“My grandmother, who passed away last year, had been singing in the church choir for 50 years,” he explained. “They pulled out the baptismal register, and I saw where my mom had signed, and it was a special moment.”
The entire group — Murray, Fraser Walters, Remigio Pereira and Victor Micallef — received a classic Newfoundland welcome the entire time they were here, Murray said, with a crowd of family members greeting them at the airport, showers of kisses and hugs, and meal after meal. It was a little more subdued than the last time they were in town, for last year’s “Holiday Festival on Ice” figure skating show at Mile One, when the come-from-aways in the group were Screeched in.
This time around, the Tenors had a packed schedule that left little time for parties: in addition to the church performance, they held an autograph-signing at Fred’s Records and sang the national anthem and a song from the new record at the IceCaps game at Mile One Saturday night.
“During the first intermission we sang a song from our album called ‘Forever Young,’ the Bob Dylan song, and the reception was quite special,” Murray says. “You never quite know what kind of attention you might receive when someone’s going for beers or hot dogs but everyone stuck around and we had a standing ovation.”
The Tenors have had a whirlwind of a career since singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with Céline Dion on “Oprah” two-and-a-half years ago. Though they were well known in Canada at that point, that performance propelled them to international fame, and even caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II, who told them, after they performed “Hallelujah”, at a private event with her during her jubilee celebrations earlier this year, that it was one of her favourite songs.
They had also been asked to perform “God Save the Queen” at the event — a four-part harmony Murray says they learned in the car on the way to Windsor Castle.
“She was kind enough to come over and speak with us for a good three or four minutes, which was surprising but very exciting,” he says. “I could quote her as saying she loves the variety in our repertoire. It really speaks to what we’re all about, having two classical voices and two pop voices. We can really sing a wide range of genres in our shows and on our albums.”
Since then, The Tenors have performed on all five continents, with the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Sting and Paul McCartney, and were feature performers at the Emmy Awards.
Walters, Pereira and Micallef are all classically trained singers; Murray comes from a gospel background and is, for the most part, self-taught. Before joining the Tenors he was an actor in film and on TV, with roles in movies like “She’s the Man” and “Night at the Museum,” and on “Boston Legal.” He was also a soloist in a gospel choir and was working on a solo pop career.
Even though they might have all the makings of a great pop boy band, The Tenors are “in love” with their current genre, combining classical, world and modern music, Murray says, which allows them significant creativity. Songs on “Lead With Your Heart,” their first album in more than two years, range from Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” to “Amazing Grace” to “Nessun Dorma,” one of the most recognized operatic arias. There’s also “World Stand Still,” a radio-friendly pop song The Tenors co-wrote. The album reached the No. 2 spot on Amazon’s list, based on presales alone.
“The music is so powerful and it reaches such a wide range of people. It’s all about connecting and getting that visceral feeling with the audience. The adrenaline rush that we get after a show and during a show is incredible. We meet the fans after the show and people are just moved to tears and laughter and we just love to be a part of that, inspiring positive change and helping people in whatever way we can.”
The guys have seen the power of music first-hand, Murray says.
“We’ve had grown men coming up after the show and saying, ‘I haven’t cried in 30 years. That song reminded me of when I was young and my mother passed and I was unable to grieve, and that song took me to a place where I’d never been.’ Stories like that, you hear over and over again, and it just gives you a sense of pride, but also a sense of responsibility to always choose a repertoire that is meaningful and powerful and inspirational.”
The Tenors are aiming to pack Mile One for themselves as they perform in support of “Lead With Your Heart” March 3. Tickets range from $52.50 to $105 (tax included, plus surcharge), and will go on sale this Friday at noon at the Mile One Centre box office, by calling 576-7657, and online at www.mileoncentre.com.
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