Maybe it’s the acoustics echoing off the 11th-century Bagshot Heath stone at Windsor Castle, or maybe it’s The Queen’s Six.
A breakaway choir group of the St. George’s choir that formed in 2008, the vocal sextet is visiting New York City for the second time, but this time inviting public school students to their performance and waiving ticket costs.
Attendees can expect to hear a broad repertoire of music ranging from folk to church and pop to New York City’s own Tom Lehrer. The Queen’s Six will also perform selections from its first contemporary album of love songs, From Windsor with Love. TJ Armand, managing producer for The Queen’s Six, worked with Peter Avery, theater director for New York City’s education department, to get the show back on the road.
“It’s important for The Queen’s Six that there are public school students, and most importantly, public school students who see themselves as artists,” Avery said. “It was quite a natural fit.”
The Queen’s Six formed on the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I’s ascension to the English throne, as an offshoot group of the adults from the Choir of St. George’s Chapel. The chapel choir, which has sung at church services since 1348, today perform around eight services a week, and regularly before the Royal Family. The choir sang at Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s wedding. Most recently, as part of the St. George’s Choir, The Queen’s Six sang at the Windsor Castle burial services for the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died last fall.
Armand, who trained under the late Grammy-winning music producer Arif Mardin, watched how students interacted with The Queen’s Six at the Bermuda Festival, of which Armand was the executive director of. After two years of collaboration with the New York City Department of Education, The Queen’s Six is returning to New York City as the first stop of their tour.
“We’re able to offer seats to New York City students to experience both classical, sacred music along with pop music and know that these two worlds can combine,” Armand said. “It’s very exciting to inspire them with this very rare and intricate form of music.”
Around 100 students from three schools in Brooklyn and Queens are planning on attending the concert. There will be a special section on both performance dates for around 170 students at the elegant gold-and-crimsoned Town Hall venue in midtown Manhattan. Students will be exposed to artists at their highest levels of their craft, Avery said.
Simon Whiteley, a founding member of The Queen’s Six who sings bass traced his roots to his upbringing in the northeast England city of York, where his father played the organ at the cathedral Whiteley sang as a choir boy. Once he hit high school, he joined a “barbershop group” which some might remember as barbershop quartets, which were by created African Americans in the late 1800s.
“We’re named after Elizabeth the first and that’s mainly because we started out singing quite a lot of music written by church music composers during the reign of Elizabeth the first,” Whiteley said.
Around the time they formed, The Queen’s Six noticed calls from “some very important people” for more contemporary styles of music, pop, and everything else in between, Whiteley said.
Was it the late Queen Elizabeth II who cordially requested pop music from The Queen’s Six?
“I’d love to be able to say that it was the Queen,” Whiteley said. “It’s just that style of music is much more suitable for after-dinner entertainment. I think it just leads to so much more musical interest when you’re free to mix these styles and genres.”
Tom Lilburn who sings countertenor for The Queen’s Six, is the “relative newbie to the group,” he said. Lilburn joined The Queen’s Six during the pandemic in late 2020, though he was already signing at Windsor Castle since 2016. He relishes in creating beautiful sounds with his group and entertaining audiences.
“I feel quite lucky to have been exposed to classical music at an early age,” said Lilburn, who grew up in England’s Midlands region and who, with his mother, joined various choirs. “The most exciting thing is the idea of children who have never seen this before seeing it. Maybe one day they’ll be doing it for a living as well.”
The Queen’s Six discography has included Christmas and Tudor music, as well sounds from the cathedrals of Mexico in their “Journeys to the New World” album. The group continues pushing boundaries by embracing music from the past and present corners of music repertoire: austere early chant, florid Renaissance polyphony, lewd madrigals, haunting folk songs, and jazz and pop arrangements.
“They’re representing the Queen and part of the history and all the mystique and intrigue,” Avery said. “They are singing classical music, Gregorian chant, and also pop. It’s about cultural literacy, so (students) can get inspired to create themselves and see themselves as creative artists.”
“What we want to do is plant the seed,” Armand said. “In our next visit, we want to do more workshopping with students.”
Students who are interested in attending can speak to their teachers, who are working with the NYC Department of Education to book school groups. The Queen’s Six concert tickets are available for purchase on Ticketmaster here.