It’s hard work being a professional choral singer. You have to spend hours at a piano plunking out your notes. You have to sing in ritualized and often very weird ways to warm up the throat and vocal chords, slowly and carefully at first, then with more and more energy.
You have to pace yourself vocally to protect a notoriously fragile instrument susceptible to the slightest wisp of cool air or pollen particle.
You have to support every breath, using your diaphragm to draw air in and push it out while remembering to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed, throat open, palate raised and sinus cavities resonating.
It’s hard enough to sing the Renaissance and Baroque repertoire, with its intricate polyphony, fast runs and often sacred texts. But then you’re asked to sing modern stuff, and that can take some extra learning.
Stamina. That’s what’s needed most. And intelligence. Preparedness. Patience.
These are the qualities David Acres is cultivating in his new chamber choir, The King’s Counterpoint. Acres and his wife, Judith Overcash Acres, started the choir in 2014.
The couple married in 2013, after they’d established the vocal ensemble Contrapunctus in Cleveland, Ohio, where they were working.
From each other they drew inspiration and a musical determination to do something special. Already they were running a sister group in the U.K. called Counterpoint.
Now it was time to return to Judith’s home town of Charleston and bring their vast choral experience with them.
David Acres started his career at Exeter Cathedral in England, became a prominent countertenor and went on to work with a variety of choirs in the U.K. and U.S.
Judith Acres has been singing a wide range of vocal repertoire, from Medieval to contemporary works, for decades. She’s held numerous positions as soloist, chorister, director and teacher.
Since getting The King’s Counterpoint up and running, they’ve been busier than ever. In 2015, the choir performed 16 times, presenting adventurous programs that relied heavily on the Anglican choral tradition.
And now they are preparing their most ambitious program yet: a concert mimicking the coronation service of King George II.
They are re-creating the musical order of service from 1727, which has at its heart four anthems by George Frideric Handel, “Let thy hand be strengthened,” “Zadok the Priest,” “The King shall rejoice” and “My heart is inditing,” all set to texts from the King James Bible.
Handel’s “Zadok” is so popular it has been performed at every royal coronation in England since.
The original service lasted more than five hours. The King’s Counterpoint concert won’t go that long, David Acres said. He’s clipping a lot of the intermediary material. But the sounds of the processional, trumpet fanfares, anthems and chorales all will fill the sanctuary of Grace Church Cathedral starting at 3 p.m. May 15.
Besides Handel’s famous anthems, the choir will sing works by Henry Purcell, John Blow, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis.
The whole coronation thing is a good way to get in an English frame of mind.
In mid-July, The King’s Counterpoint will ensconce itself at Wells Cathedral in Somerset county, U.K., where it will become the resident choir for a week. It will sing three Sunday services (Eucharist, choral Matins and Choral Evensong) plus a concert at Milton Abbey, about 25 miles south.
The Milton Abbey concert will feature sacred and secular compositions by American composers.
Soprano Le’ah Griggs, 20, is new to the group. A voice student at the College of Charleston, studying with Judith Acres, Griggs said she has already fulfilled her ensemble requirement but wanted to keep singing in a group.
John Schroeder, a 52-year-old bass who’s sung in church choirs and in the CSO Chorus for years, said he appreciates the work ethic in The King’s Counterpoint.
“It’s the most organized choir I’ve ever been in,” he said.
Walter Kaufmann, an experienced choral tenor, echoed Schroeder’s observation. He said the singers get the music about six weeks before a scheduled concert and are expected to come to rehearsal with their parts learned.
Soprano Louise Reynolds, 27, said she treats her membership in the choir like any other job. It’s a serious enterprise that demands endurance and diligence. “Your job is to have your voice together,” she said.
Choral singing in Charleston is in some ways more robust than ever. Choirs in town include the Taylor Festival Choir (a professional ensemble that operates similarly to The King’s Counterpoint), the Charleston Spiritual Ensemble and Gospel Choir, the Charleston Men’s Chorus and the College of Charleston Concert Choir, to name a few.
Charleston Southern University has an excellent choral program led, until her recent retirement, by Valerie Bullock. The newly formed Bach Society of Charleston calls upon local singers. So does the Color of Music Chorale and the Choral Arts Experience in Mount Pleasant.
Despite the crowded field, The King’s Counterpoint, and the other choirs, find their audiences. Perhaps that’s because the human voice is considered by many the most compelling instrument of all.
The Acres said they hope The King’s Counterpoint can strengthen its position in town, adding eligible singers to its roster, performing steadily and touring. Already the group lends core singers to the choir of Grace Cathedral Church. And the Acres are talking about a big tour in 2018 featuring all three of the Acres’ ensembles.
But first things first: a king is to be commemorated.
Reach Adam Parker at (843) 937-5902. Follow him at facebook.com/aparkerwriter.