Our Christmas issue cover CD was specially recorded by The Queen’s Six for BBC Music Magazine. It includes everything from traditional favourites to works by contemporary composers. Simon Whiteley, one of the vocal sextet's two bass-baritones, tells us about the group, the disc, and what it is like to sing for the Queen…
How did The Queen's Six meet?
The Queen’s Six is made up of half the lay clerks of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. We sing the daily services there, which is obviously all sacred music. A group of us got together and decided that we’d quite like to sing some secular music as well. Now we include both sacred and secular music in our programmes – we don’t omit anything!
What is the musical life like at Windsor?
We sing eight services a week during term time – because of the boy choristers we are bound to school terms, which means we get nice long holidays! We sing for the Queen officially twice a year – once on Easter Sunday, and once on Garter Day. On Garter day, all of the Knights of the Garter and all of the Royal family take part in a big procession from the castle to the chapel – it’s basically a big pageant with everyone dressed up in their finery.
Your debut CD was released in March. How did you start putting it together?
With our first recording we decided to focus on our history as choristers of a royal chapel. In the Tudor period there were six main royal composers: Byrd, Tomkins, Tallis, Wilkes, Morley and Gibbons. It seemed perfect to start with the sacred music of these six composers, given our own background. Next year we will release another disc focusing on the same composers, but this time we will just be recording their secular music.
How did you go about putting together the disc for the Christmas issue of BBC Music Magazine?
We decided to include five of the best-known congregational carols, accompanied by organ, as they are so central to everyone’s experience of Christmas. They became even more poignant inclusions when Sir David Willcocks died just a couple of days after we finished recording, as many of the arrangements on the disc are his. Unusually, as we are an all male group, we’ve recorded his famous descants in the tenor part! The rest of the repertoire on the disc is unaccompanied, as that is how we usually perform. We wanted to have a mixture of everything, so there are pieces by everyone from Tallis to Tchaikovsky. There is also a lot of music by living composers, including BBC Music Magazine’s specially commissioned carol from last year by Thomas Hewitt Jones, ‘Lullay, my Liking,’ which is absolutely beautiful and very well crafted.
What was your favourite track on the disc you’ve just recorded for us?
The piece by Kenneth Leighton, ‘The Christ child laid on Mary’s lap.’ There is something about Leighton’s music that is so unique and instantly recognisable – this piece is no exception. It is absolutely hauntingly beautiful.