Celestial sounds from an unlikely boy band

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/09/14/celestial-sounds-from-an-unlikely-boy-band/

“Celestial sounds for a new time” is how the British group Libera describes their music. In far-flung places like Japan, Russia, and the Philippines, young fans are queuing up for autographs. Clad in white flowing robes, the enthusiastic singers consider themselves more of an alternative boy band than a group of choirboys. Libera’s music is an imaginative fusion of classical choral harmonies and modern melodies. Pummeling outdated stereotypes, their innovative CDs are topping international mainstream and classical charts.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Formed in 2000, Libera’s members range from seven to sixteen years old, most of whom have unchanged “treble” voices. The group’s home base is the Anglican church of St. Philips in South London, where they also sing at weekly services. The director, Robert Prizeman, arranges and composes their multi-part harmonies with the aim to bring their inspiring songs to people who normally find classical music inaccessible.

Prizeman explains that they “open up the possibility of bringing those vocal sounds to a wider audience than perhaps a straight classical repertoire could – though the boys also sing the full range of choral works in their different activities which make up the full breadth of Libera.”

Their recordings clearly demonstrate the boys’ solid training in the Western canon. Prizeman infuses his music with Gregorian chant, and also echoes composers such as Debussy and Beethoven. He says that “Libera evolved and grew out of the classical choral sounds that our boy trebles make, and which has so characterized sacred music for centuries.”

Libera takes its name from the Latin verb “liberare,” meaning “to free,” and comes from the Libera Me section of the Requiem Mass. Their unique blend of traditional and modern music sets them apart from other popular recording artists in their genre. For instance, several groups of Benedictine monks and nuns have produced lovely, ethereal CDs that have enjoyed commercial success, but their focus is more narrow and does not necessarily engage young audiences.

One of the best examples of their fusion of classical and contemporary is their song “Stay with Me.” The uplifting presentation intertwines distinctly modern English lyrics with traditional Latin verse:

You are everything I know
Whichever way I go
Forever stay with me
Venite angeli
Cantate Domino

Here is the link to their beautiful video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk10abgfinc

Besides the message of faith and hope, Prizeman also pays tribute to other notable themes, such as fallen soldiers in “We are the Lost,” which uses text from John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” Libera also performs an historical interpretation of “America the Beautiful” in this rendition:  https://youtu.be/RL5lg-Mep5M

Despite their success, Libera remains a not-for-profit organization whose members are unpaid. One of the boys summed up the group sentiment: “The traveling and filming is fun, but even if we didn’t go anywhere I’d still want to do it because I just love singing.” Their hybrid yet tasteful style has cross-generational appeal that avoids the pitfalls of other lamentable attempts to combine old and new sounds, such as kitschy Muzak or the Fifth of Beethoven’s disco fiasco. As Prizeman explains, “there was never any market-driven concept to produce ‘choirboys with a beat’!”

Apart from their performing commitments, the boys lead normal lives, attending school and participating in ordinary extracurricular activities. Here is an overview of the group’s international tour, which gives an amusing view of the boys’ embarrassed reaction to their fame:

In addition to their world tours, Libera has performed at the Kennedy Center Honors, for Pope Benedict XVI’s stadium mass in the U.S., in concert for Queen Elizabeth, and has also appeared on PBS, NBC’s “Today” show, the “Tonight” show, and various BBC programs.

Since their founding, Prizeman and Libera have stayed true to their original ethos, which they define as “at once both ancient and modern.” It is an effective formula that produces a resplendent sound, and has the added bonus of acquainting younger audiences with the rich Western choral tradition.