Exclusive interview with Nigel Short, artistic director of the world renowned choir, Tenebrae and former member of the King’s Singers. Hear him speak about the idea of passion and precision as well as his fun upbringing as a seven-year-old “professional” singer! Recorded in-person in Philadelphia pre-concert.
The moment you knew you’d dedicate your life to music
Nigel grew up in a family that didn’t attend church and weren’t musicians, but one day when he was 7-years-old he wandered into the local parish church and wound up at choir practice. It was a new sound for him and he was immediately hooked. His parents allowed him to go back for rehearsals and Sunday services and Nigel notes that he loved it from the start. Also, the idea that he would be paid for singing at weddings, etc. was also attractive to Nigel, who used to work an early paper route with his brother.
When he was 15, Nigel purchased a recording of Handel’s Messiah and was enticed by the voice of countertenor, James Bowman. “I want to make that noise,” he said, so he began imitating Bowman. This new-found sound immediately attracted attention and has taken him far in his musical career.
Worst musical moment
Nigel used to conduct everything from memory. While conducting the premiere of John Tavener’s Mother and Child with Tenebrae in St. Louis, Missouri, he lost his place. Thinking it was time for one of the work’s loudest most vibrant choruses, he gave a huge downbeat and the choir came in softly and gently. “I had to go from energized to relaxed in 2 seconds,” Nigel recalls. The choir thought it was quite funny!
The proudest musical moment
Nigel cites four of these:
- During his time as a young boy chorister singing Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer
- When he sang in Handel’s opera, Rinaldo, in Italy.
- When he sang with the Westminster Abbey choir at the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
- During a recent recording of the Bruckner Motets with Tenebrae, Nigel recalls many touching moments that brought many to tears. They also did the whole thing in only two takes!
After Nigel left the King’s Singers in 2000, he wasn’t sure what to do. He took some time off and spent more than a year skiing and golfing in Switzerland but wanted to continue doing something with music. With the encouragement of friends old and new, he decided to start a singing group that would do a different kind of repertoire from that of the King’s Singers – more contemporary and theatrical-like. Everything came together and the singers of Tenebrae continue to love what they’re doing.
He chose the name Tenebrae because the dark, solemn Holy Week services of the same name were always his favorite. The word means “shadows”.
Tenebrae’s motto is “Passion and Precision” and Nigel feels that the magic comes from the mix of both of those things. The motto, he adds, seemed to capture his goals.
Thomas Hardy Books – Far from the Madding Crowd (Penguin Classics)
Shakerspeare – The Complete Works of Shakespeare