You might figure a fellow who is surrounded by thousands of people at least seven months out of the year would prefer to work in tranquility whenever possible. But 29-year-old Johnny Howard rarely finds himself far from the madding crowd.
A day before leaving his native England for Switzerland and another concert jaunt with the world-famous King’s Singers a cappella choral group, he plopped himself amid the noise of a London club to do some work. He wanted to listen to the group’s latest song edits for a Christmas disc and to review upcoming U.S. travel plans for the six-member, Grammy-winning ensemble that first made its musical name nearly half a century ago.
“I’m very extroverted,” he said, speaking above the chatter and noise behind him. “I really thrive being surrounded by people. I even can learn some of my music (this way).”
Howard and his musical mates will perform a two-hour concert July 9 at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus. The program, “Postcards From Around the World,” will consist heavily of folk music from its 2014 “Postcards” release, highlighting songs from a variety of the group’s globetrotting: Korea, Latvia, Scotland, China, Australia, South Africa and Finland. The tunes will include the gentlemen singing in enough different languages to turn the concert into an ethnic expo of sorts.
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“Of course, we can’t do that without a lot of expert help,” Howard said.
His favorite in the collection is the comic and Canadian “Feller From Fortune,” which includes the early lines: “Uncle George got up in the mornin’/He got up in a hell of a tear/He ripped the seat right out of his britches/Now he’s got no pair to wear.”
The ensemble is known for interjecting pockets of humor into every show. Through the years, it has sung, with a semi-straight face, songs such as Randy Newman’s “Short People” and even the classic “Old McDonald Had a Farm” — in Greek.
“If we were so serious all the time — what fun would that be?” asked Howard.
Yet, the group’s serious side spans music ranging from English madrigals to classical to material from Sting and the Beatles.
Bogdan Minut, St. Bartholomew’s director of music ministry, has been a King’s Singers fan since his college days in Romania. In 2001, he and his wife caught the group in concert at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis and met the vocalists, including veteran countertenor David Hurley, afterward.
“I appreciate the group’s impeccable musicianship and artistry,” Minut said. “Their voices, from the lowest bass foundation to the baritone and tenor ranges and all the way up to the two unbelievable countertenors, are impeccably in tune with each other, feeling so well the musical shapes and producing generous energy to keep audiences on their emotional edge.”
Unlike most of the group’s roster through the decades, Howard trained as a classical violinist, viola player and pianist. He never seriously immersed himself in choral work until he attended New College Oxford and later launched the a cappella Oxford Clerks.
“I would be lying if I ever said I actually dreamed of doing something quite like this,” he said, adding that he is among the few group members or alumni not to come up through the ranks as a young choirboy. “It’s crazy and amazing.”
To say nothing of a literal whirlwind, including 21 different time zones in a recent six-month period among an annual 130-date schedule. But Howard loves the travel as much as the group’s trademark harmony, marked by Howard’s bass voice, a tenor, two baritones and two countertenors.
“It still seems like a bit of a novelty to get to the airport and get on a plane, even though I must have taken several hundred flights in the last six years (with the group),” he said.
Amid his travel and downtime, he lends an ear to his iPod with a generous selection of pop tunes from artists such as Michael Buble.
“I definitely like to keep my finger on the pop world,” Howard said. “Really, I see us as the gateway between a lot of pop and classical music.”
Who: Two-time Grammy-winning a cappella group the King’s Singers, performing choral-style music ranging from classical to jazz to pop to the Great American Songbook. Members hope to include a Hoagy Carmichael tune during its appearance here.
When: 7:30 p.m. July 9.
Where: St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 1306 27th St. as part of the 10th anniversary of the church’s concert series.
Tickets: $25, available at Viewpoint Books and also St. Bartholomew Catholic Church office in Columbus. Also available at TicketRiver.com.
Information: 812-379-9353 or kingssingers.com.