Oliver Griffiths had a message for all the vocal jazz students who hooted and hollered for his group, the Swingle Singers, later that night at the Union Colony Civic Center.
Griffiths wanted to sing when he was 18, but he was worried about money. He did other things. Sure things. But when he was 27, he decided to audition for the group.
“I knew I would have that regret for the rest of my life,” Griffiths said Thursday afternoon during a talk with the rest of the seven-member group.
Sara Brimer had the same message. She told her friends she was going to London. She was from Tennessee, and her friends asked the most logical question.
London, Kentucky, right?
No, she told them. It sounded crazy. But Brimer allowed herself to think about what she would want in life.
“And I thought it would be something like the Swingle Singers because that would be fantasy,” she said. “But even if I didn’t make it, I thought I would regret it if I didn’t try.”
The current members of the London-based group talked about the Swingle Singers as a full-time job. Many of them have families, and they’re on the road a lot.
After their headlining performance to about 1,350 at the opening day of the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival, they had to be at the airport at 4 a.m. (meaning by the time you read this, they’re already on their way to their next gig).
But they also talked about it as a privilege, an honor and, yes, a dream.
Not everyone had to talk about dreams. Edward Randell, who joined the group two years ago, mentioned that he was in a Harry Potter movie when he was 13, and he even had a line (though, with a grin, he cut off other questions about it). But it is an honor. The Swingle Sisters, after all, are celebrating 50 years as a group, with, of course, some changes in personnel.
The group was famous for arranging Bach’s music into jazz, but these days, the Swingle Sisters sing pop music — their 2013 album featured Florence and the Machine among others — and folk songs from various countries in addition to Latin, jazz and, of course, Bach. (They performed one of his pieces as a homage to the group’s history).
The group didn’t need a label for what it sang Thursday. The show was more about displaying the vocal acrobatics and musical talent that made it seem as if they had three times the number singing and playing instruments, a big reason for the a cappella craze that feeds “Glee” and other snippets of pop culture. And maybe making all those students swoon over their British accents.
Mady Carroll, a senior at Fort Collins High School, is a fan of the Swingle Singers, just like her mom, Janelle Knespel-Carroll, who went with her daughter to the show.
“Because they’re awesome,” Mady said, and that’s as good an answer as anyone else gave.
Mady, however, could relate to what they said earlier. She wants to model on a runway one day, but music and singing remains a big part of her life. She turned to fashion after a photographer told her to audition for a show. She later decided she would regret it if she didn’t. Music will always be a part of her life. Maybe when she turns 27, she’ll go down a different path, too.
In 2009, the Swingle Sisters changed the group by essentially dethroning the king. Ward Swingle founded it and, therefore, he was the obvious leader for many years. When he retired, that role was passed down from singer to singer, and that person did everything. But Thursday afternoon, in between all the talk about the group being a job, and a dream, they also talked about it as a business.
Every member of the group now has a role that doesn’t have much to do with singing. Some arrange music, and one arranges travel (he probably isn’t too popular with that 4 a.m. flight), and one even does the group’s Twitter account. Randell, after his brief career in Harry Potter movies, studied journalism, so he does many of the interviews. Another does the choreography.
That collaboration sparked long talks and deep friendships. It’s tough when one of them leaves, for family reasons or another career or another opportunity. They feel as if they’re losing a family member, not just a musical partner.
“It took us a while to get to that place where we respect each other and trust each other,” said Kevin Fox.
But they haven’t had to say goodbye for a while. Randell said the current lineup’s been together for more than two years, since he joined. They all smiled when he said that.
They spoke about family and hard work and dreams. Later that night they would sing a song that repeated a lyric, over and over, about having the time of their lives.
“This is not a transitional thing,” Randell said. “This is us, and it feels wonderful.”