When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Tickets: $105, $89.50, $65 and $52.50 (plus fees): 250-220-7777 or selectyourtickets.com
Clifton Murray is the kind of guy who says things like, “You never know what the universe has to offer,” and, “I always give thanks to the power of yes.”
That particular perspective has made him a perfect fit for The Tenors, who are coming to Victoria Saturday on a tour called Lead With Your Heart, named for their latest album.
Local audiences know the Tenors’ history of identity shifts well. Formed in Victoria as the Canadian Tenors in 2003, the original trio of B.C. members (Ken Lavigne, Philip Grant and Paul Ouellette) have long since been replaced through a series of full lineup changes. Just last fall, members rebranded as the Tenors, saying that while they were proud of their Canadian roots, they didn’t want any barriers to recognition as international singers.
But in the membership realm, there’s a definite sense of settling. Murray, who remains the newest Tenor, celebrated the fourth anniversary of his debut performance with the group on Jan. 16.
He said he clicked with Victor Micallef, Remigio Pereira and Fraser Walters the first time they met, weeks earlier, when they invited him to sing O Canada with them in a vocal audition at Walters’ former piano teacher’s Vancouver home.
It likely gave Micallef, Pereira and Walters extra confidence that he expressed strong dedication to the ever-changing group.
“I took each of them aside, looked them in the eye and told them how important it was to me and how badly I wanted it. I think it was probably a very important thing for them to see, too.”
However badly Murray wanted it in that moment, joining the Tenors was a relatively new aspiration. When he received an invitation to audition, he hadn’t even applied.
“[Manager Jeffrey Latimare] gave me a call and said, ‘Have you ever heard of the Canadian Tenors?’ And I said, ‘The Canadian who?’ ” Murray said.
That’s where the power of yes comes in, because Murray’s path to this point was leading him in a different direction.
Performance had always been in Murray’s blood. He sang and danced every summer in Port McNeill alongside sister Georgia at their parents’ Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, from age 10, when he could get away with a little red bow-tie and knee socks, until 23. That’s also where he learned some valuable social skills — the resort hosted everyone from Warren Buffet to David E. Kelley, as well as Fortune 500 company retreats.
“That gave me the foundation for performing and entertaining and learning how to work a room — and knowing the importance of music, humour and detail,” he said.
After receiving a university rugby scholarship, Murray planned on pursuing a sports career. But a shoulder injury and diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy put that to rest.
When he was selected to audition for the Canadian Tenors, he was pursuing both an acting career (he had roles in She’s the Man and Boston Legal) as well as a pop-music career. He sent his solo album to Universal and it made its way into the Tenors’ hands. Pereira found a YouTube video of Murray performing in his hometown of Port McNeill and they invited him to audition.
“It was a month-and-a-half long audition. Travelling with them, carrying their bags. ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ ” he said. “I would go on tour with them and I would basically watch and observe and hang out.”
While vocal performances were involved, they were testing Murray on multiple levels.
“They were testing my personality, as they were testing my musicality,” he said. “Because they wanted someone who is committed for the next 15 years, they wanted someone who wants to be here, who is committed to life on the road and is passionate about that group. Thankfully, I was all those things.”
On Jan. 16, 2009, Murray had his first on-stage performance as part of the Canadian Tenors. It was a small show for about 100 people in Westlock, Alta. — from his perspective, if he failed, not too many people would see. It went well.
After his next performance with the group alongside a 72-piece orchestra in Winnipeg went off without any major hitches, it was official.
“That’s when our manager sent out an email to our entire team,” he said.
Since then, Murray said he has more opportunities than he could have imagined, as part of the Tenors. They have performed for the Queen, Oprah and the Vancouver Winter Olympics audience. Last year, Victoria’s famed music producer David Foster invited them to a private dinner party alongside guests including Regis Philbin, Barbara Streisand and Dr. Phil and requested that they perform Amazing Grace alongside Donna Summer, who would die only two months later.
Tenors fans are notoriously enthusiastic. They call themselves TFF, or Tenors Friends Forever, and have developed an online community offering one another places to stay when attending a concert out of their hometown, or in some cases, are planning to attend multiple concerts along the North American tour.
“They are avid, rabid, exceptional fans,” said Murray, who dedicates part of each day communicating with fans online. “It’s become a relationship with the fans. And if you’re in a relationship, you’ve gotta be committed.”
The Tenors will always be challenged with separating themselves from the slew of similarly named trios and quartets. According to Murray, they do so by writing some of their own songs, playing instruments (they almost chose the name the Tenors Band), as well as playing up each of their strengths — whether its Micallef and Pereira’s classically trained voices or Walters’ and Murray’s pop sensibilities.
So while joining a pop-opera group wasn’t part of his plan, it’s what Murray sees as an offering from the universe — and the groupmates who chose him.
“I honestly believe I was put on this Earth to entertain, to sing and to act,” he said. “And they’re allowing me to do that every day of my life. So I can’t thank the guys enough.”
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