Christopher Bruerton (second from right) was part of the King’s Singers lineup celebrating the group’s 50-year anniversary last year, photo Marco Borggreve.
In 2008, a young man who’d badgered his parents to let him audition for our ChristChurch Cathedral Choir as a child, witnessed the legendary King’s Singers in concert at the Royal Albert in London. The six-piece was celebrating its 40th anniversary, though some members weren’t even born when the original group was formed at Cambridge University in the late 1960s.
Christopher Bruerton never could have envisaged that a decade later he’d be a baritone for those very King’s Singers for the 50th anniversary. The sextet is renowned for its harmonies and recognisable sound, and tours the world performing classical and modern music and tutoring up-and-coming singers. ‘It’s been cool and humbling to be part of this monumental anniversary for what was really kicked off by six university mates,’ says Christopher. ‘Those guys never would have imagined their group would still be around now. It’s been great to see so many of the original King’s Singers as part of the 50th celebrations.’
Back in 2008, Christopher was in London as part of our ChristChurch Cathedral Choir – 16 boys and 12 men who for the first time in the choir’s 126-year history were touring Britain. They’d been invited to sing at venues including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Christ Church in Oxford. ‘It was such a great moment to sing in these huge cathedrals,’ says Christopher. ‘When I saw the King’s Singers perform, I just thought how cool would it be to get to do this, to sing as a full-time professional, so I was itching to return to the UK.’
Christopher had a typical Kiwi childhood, full of outdoors adventures and sports alongside his musical interests. ‘Mum and Dad placed a great deal of importance on being a well-rounded person, so I really enjoyed the activities I was involved in outside school.’
He sang in several choirs and school music groups as a youngster, but when Christopher saw the Cathedral Choir perform during Christmas in 1994, something changed. ‘I was transfixed, and I remember whispering to Mum and Dad, “I want to be in that choir!”,’ he says. ‘They were a little concerned, given it was six days a week including four morning rehearsals, three weekday evensongs and two services on Sunday, as well as special concerts, but I wasn’t accepting no for an answer. So they got in touch with the late David Childs. I auditioned, and spent the next 15 years as a chorister, choral scholar, and lay clerk.’
Looking back, Christopher credits Childs’ formative tutelage with getting him to where he is now. ‘I loved the music and singing in English, Latin, French, German, and Māori,’ he says. ‘It was a wonderful education and the ability to pick up a piece of music and sing it upon first sight is a key skill that has allowed me to become a professional singer. I owe so much of my musicianship to being a chorister. There’s really no other training like it.’
Being part of the Cathedral Choir also helped lead Christopher to his place in the King’s Singers in another way, though no one could have known at the time. ‘Singers from Christ Church in Oxford, one of the top British cathedral choirs, had been coming over for several years to sing with us,’ says Christopher. ‘The first time, I was about 13. Every year they came back and kept improving our choir, singing in the back row. I saw the standard they set, and the standard of our choir growing over time. By about 2008, we had a back row on par with these highly-trained guys.’
Keen to return to the UK after the 2008 tour, a desire amplified by a long-distance relationship, Christopher left on a one-way ticket in June 2010 after a Skype interview to join Christ Church, Oxford as a lay clerk. ‘Then I said yes to any singing opportunity that came along, paid or unpaid, to get myself out there,’ he says. ‘I felt strongly that you’re only as good as your last performance, and you never know who might be listening. That couldn’t have been more true in terms of what happened next.’
Out of the blue, an email arrived from the King’s Singers, offering an audition.
‘Being part of that group is not something you apply for,’ explains Christopher. ‘Someone had seen me and recommended me to them. Life can be about timing – there are a lot of great baritones in the UK who never had that opportunity because the past baritone was in the King’s Singers for 18 years. It was one of those fortunate moments in life.’
Christopher found out later his recommendation had resulted from when he’d stepped in on short notice for a recording with William Gaunt, a bass-baritone in the Westminster Cathedral Choir. ‘Will went on to recommend me to the King’s Singers. To me, good luck is very much hard work combined with being able to take advantage of an opportunity because you’ve worked hard. I was in the right place at the right time.’
A tough audition process followed, which Christopher thinks he navigated in part thanks to his Kiwi attitude of taking the pressure off himself and just having fun. ‘No matter what happened I’d always be able to say I’d sung once with the King’s Singers.’
For a second audition he had to learn 11 pieces of music in a few days, including three from memory. He won the coveted position and joined the group to begin 2012. In the years since, Christopher has sung all over the world, performing everything from madrigals and folk songs to Harry Connick Jr and Billy Joel hits, in venues from historic basilica to school halls. Highlights have included singing in front of 22,000 people with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, revisiting the Royal Albert Hall as a member of the King’s Singers, and performing at a sold-out Carnegie Hall. ‘I had to pinch myself, I was just a Kiwi boy living the dream.’
Throughout all the travel, hotels, concerts, and time away from home, Christopher’s passion for singing has never dimmed. Or his desire to give back. ‘I feel strongly I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without the upbringing and support I had in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand. I’m not sure exactly what form it will take but I hope to be able to help other Kiwis both figure out what their version of making it is, and help them on their journey.’
[ WORDS Craig Sisterson ]