U.K. a cappella group King’s Singers returns to D.C. with message of unity

U.K. a cappella group King’s Singers returns to D.C. with message of unity

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For the globe-trotting musicians of the King’s Singers, the esteemed British a cappella sextet, it’s crucial to hit notes of comfort wherever their travels take them. For the current members of the 55-year-old group, whose roster changes over the years, most holiday seasons include a pilgrimage to Washington National Cathedral — turning D.C. into a cherished home away from home.

To bass Jonathan Howard, no trip to Washington is complete without a stop by Kramers bookstore in Dupont Circle or a workout class at Barry’s Bootcamp. First countertenor Patrick Dunachie, meanwhile, is a Georgetown devotee who escapes the exhilarating but taxing “never-ending treadmill” of travel by decompressing at Blue Bottle Coffee.

“You find little bits of home everywhere,” Howard says during a recent video chat from London alongside Dunachie. “It’s like a golden thread that joins together lots of stuff, even though you’re traveling internationally.”

That familiarity will inform the songs the King’s Singers perform Friday night at the cathedral, as the group — founded in 1968 at King’s College in Cambridge, England — blends holiday classics with more contemporary fare in a program crafted with an eye for the American ear.

“American Christmas is different to the British Christmas,” Howard says. “So the music very much becomes a kind of the combination of what it means to us, what it means to you and how we can use this music as a bridge.”

That mission of unification was put to the test in February when Pensacola Christian College in Florida canceled a King’s Singers concert hours before the show after discovering a member of the group was gay. While Howard notes members of the group weren’t hiding their sexuality, he says the singers had long avoided broadcasting stances on political topics or social issues. But once the Pensacola incident put a global spotlight on the King’s Singers and their response, they found themselves with newfound freedom to stand up for their beliefs.

“Up until that point, we’d always just try to be only the King’s Singers — to not be anything controversial to anyone,” Howard says. “We now proactively stand for inclusion and acceptance and tolerance in the sense of the LGBTQ+ space. I think it’s something we all absolutely did agree on, but actually having to be vocal about it was, I think, a really good exercise for us.”

That open-mindedness could even apply to a return engagement in Pensacola, where the group had performed without incident before this year’s cancellation.

“If they were to invite us back again, I think we wouldn’t necessarily say no,” Dunachie says. “According to our own philosophy, if there’s the chance for forgiveness and reconciliation, I think that’s something that we would be interested in.”

That penchant for compassion will be on display Friday night. In a treasured tradition, the King’s Singers will accompany a performance of “Silent Night” with a reading of a World War I soldier’s letter that commemorates the 1914 Christmas truce between British and German forces.

“With the wild amount of conflict that’s going on around the world,” Dunachie says, “I have a feeling that will be a particularly meaningful, poignant moment in the show.”

Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at Washington National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW. cathedral.org. $25-$104.

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