Alumni: Chris Bruerton
Saturday 10 December 2016
Christchurch-born and bred, Chris Bruerton (NZSSC Alumni 2002) has been a member of the outstanding UK choir The King’s Singers since 2012. Chris talked to us about his early experiences in NZSSC and what his life is like now, touring and performing with one of the world’s most prestigious male choirs…
How did you hear about NZSSC?
As a singer at Burnside High School, I was well aware of the NZSSC and Jean Cumming (teacher) was consistently having students audition and be accepted into the choir throughout her teaching career.
How did a boy from Burnside High become a baritone in the incredible Kings Singers?
It’s been a wonderful journey, starting out when I was a boy chorister at ChristChurch Cathedral, a place I spent the next fifteen years honing my ensemble skills. Having been in the Specialist Music Programme throughout my time at Burnside High, the follow-on with my six years in the national choirs (NZSSC and the NZ Youth Choir) was a natural continuation of that top level education. After school I completed a Mus.B (Hons) at The University of Canterbury, majoring in Voice and minoring in French. Then, I spent a year at the NZ Graduate School of Education to gain a diploma in teaching before spending just over three years teaching at my old stomping group, Burnside High School, running the choral department. It was very much a case of coming full circle.
Give us a snapshot of a day in the life of a member of The King’s Singers?
There is always some form of travel, be it a plane, train or automobile. If possible we’ll check into the hotel beforehand to drop off our luggage before heading to the venue to rehearse for up to two hours on any given concert day. Then we have dinner before the show. The concert is a two hour performance, usually with an interval, and then we come out to sign and meet people afterwards. If we don’t have any post-show commitments, then it’s back to the hotel for as much sleep as the schedule allows. In Asia, especially, the signing can be nearly as long as the concert itself! Depending on the travel we sometimes have to drive for up to two hours after the concert to get to an airport hotel ahead of an early morning flight the next day. Living out of a suitcase is perhaps not the most glamorous part of the job but the opportunity to, literally, see the world doing something we love is a dream come true.
We’re on the road 200 days a year. My home is in a village called Kennington, just south of Oxford. It’s a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of touring life.
What are the highlights from your time in NZSSC?
There are many highlights: definitely the tour to Brisbane in 2002 and working with the esteemed (conductor) Anton Armstrong. I’ll never forget his talk on authenticity with Afro-American music and then his workshop with us of his piece, ‘Keep Your Lamps’.
Have you kept in touch with your old choir friends?
I have indeed. Facebook’s good for that. Most recently, I was in Doha performing with The King’s Singers and Alexi O’Brien came to the show so that was wonderful catching up with her!
Apart from the friendships, what else did you gain from NZSSC?
NZSSC, and Elise Bradley (Director from late 2000) in particular, have a special place in my heart. Under her guidance I developed my love for conducting, and was encouraged to be a choral conductor. I spent the rest of my time in New Zealand, before moving to the UK in 2010, conducting choirs, namely the Burnside High School Male Voice Chorus and The Christchurch Boys’ Choir.
NZSSC built on the foundation that I had gained from being a Cathedral chorister, teaching me about a vast amount of repertoire from many more languages than I’d encountered before. The introduction of Kapa Haka was particularly special and it provided the launch-pad for singing in the National Youth Choir. I simply wouldn’t have had the opportunity to join the touring choir in 2004 had I not been in the NZSSC.
Do you have any advice for other young singers just starting out in NZSSC?
It’s so important to remember why we perform. It’s for the love of music. So, whether you want to have a go at making a career out of it, or keep it as a hobby, never forget what made you get into music in the first instance. In the challenging and competitive world of professional music, particularly outside of NZ, it sometimes feels more like a job than a vocation and we can fall out of love with it quickly. Identify what your version of ‘making it’ is and work harder than anyone else to make that happen. I’ll never forget what the late Christopher Doig said to me when I was studying at University: ‘I was never the best singer on the circuit, but I made a career out of turning up on time, being prepared, was always reliable, and easy to work with.’ If I can add to that, I would say that one is only as good as their last gig and you never know who’s listening! Practise as you would perform and, above all, have fun and enjoy the experiences and relationships you make. They can last a lifetime.