SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 19, 2013

Cozy up with New England Tenors

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — No two tenors are alike. That is especially true of the New England Tenors, whose voices have distinctive styles and belong to different traditions.

“We’re each unique,” said John Middleton-Cox, who sings with and directs the group that will perform at the Community House of Hamilton and Wenham on Saturday.

“Damien Corcoran has an Irish tenor, a very light and lyric sound,” he said. “Jeffrey Hartman is a very heavy, operatic tenor. I’m more of a crossover from musical theater, a dramatic tenor, that’s my specialty.”

The group, which was formed three years ago and is managed by Mike Fay of Hampton, N.H., is accompanied at concerts by pianist Wayne Ward and violinist Peter Stickel.

Two additional tenors, Joseph Holmes and Giovanni Formisano, sometimes take turns appearing in the group.

“I met some talented guys who could sing in musical theater but who are opera trained,” said Fay, who performs in community theater in addition to managing the tenors. “So, I introduced the three of them, and instantly, I was mesmerized and inspired by what I heard.”

Middleton-Cox, who had collaborated with Fay on local theater productions, said the stylistic differences of the New England Tenors also make them unique in comparison to more famous trios.

“The original Three Tenors were all of the Italian school of opera, all of the same breed, the same tone,” he said. “The Irish Tenors have the lighter sound. Within that, there’s some variety, of course, but they specialize in the same genre and style.

“We’re able to mix up styles. Audiences have remarked over and over again how each one of our voices has a unique sound and style.”

This range allows Middleton-Cox, who directs performing arts for Burlington public schools, to create programs that show off each singer’s particular strengths.

“When we’re not doing a Christmas project, we do Italian songs like ‘O Sole Mio’ or ‘Nessun Dorma’ from ‘Rigoletto,’” he said. “Pavarotti made that famous. We’ll do the big ones like that and then do a set of Irish songs, ‘Galway Bay,’ ‘Danny Boy,’ ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.’ Then, we’ll do American songs from Broadway, like ‘West Side Story,’ and popular American love songs. You’re not going to get bored at our concerts.”

There will be a similar variety among the Christmas songs at this weekend’s concert, where the music will range from secular to religious and traditional to modern.

“We have a percussionist, so we can rock it out if we need to,” Middleton-Cox said.

They will sing “Feliz Navidad,” made famous by Jose Feliciano, and the Hawaiian Christmas song “Mele Kalikimaka,” which has been recorded by people as varied as Bing Crosby, Bette Midler and Jimmy Buffett.

“At another end of the spectrum, a violinist will be featured on songs like ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Josh Groban, and ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ by Bach,” Middleton-Cox said.

The concert will begin with Christmas carols that should be familiar to many.

“We start off with ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and then ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel,’ from majestic to mysterious right away,” Middleton-Cox said.

There will also be a set of classical music, which includes the tenor arias from Handel’s “Messiah.”

“Then we have a sing-along, and, of course, ‘White Christmas’ is a popular one that we do,” Middleton-Cox said.

There are no big egos among the New England Tenors, Middleton-Cox said, which makes them a pleasure to direct.

“Each one of us has our own flare and unique style and way of interpreting a song, and we don’t want to squash that. We want to celebrate that,” he said. “At the same time, when we blend our voices together, it’s something very powerful.”

If you go What: "A Fireside Noel" Holiday Concert featuring The New England Tenors, in Libby Fireside Concert Series When: Saturday, Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. Where: The Community House of Hamilton and Wenham, 284 Bay Road, Hamilton Tickets: Available online at brownpapertickets.com or through www.communityhouse.org. Cost is $15, plus $1.52 service fee for general admission; $13, plus $1.45 service fee for seniors and children. Tickets at the door are $18. Information: Call 978-468-4818