The King’s Singers, an a cappella group of six men from England, often performs music at its concerts ranging from Renaissance madrigals to today’s pop tunes, but not this time.
During their current tour of the U.S., they will be singing tunes in six-part harmony from their latest CD, “The Great American Songbook,” released in October.
The King’s Singers will perform on Sunday at the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax.
Featured on the CD are classic American tunes from the 1920s and 1930s such as “Let’s Misbehave” and “Night and Day” by Cole Porter, “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Funny Valentine” by Rodgers and Hart and “Cheek to Cheek” by Irving Berlin.
The sextet will also likely perform songs from the 1940s and 1950s such as Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s “At Last,” Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence’s “Beyond the Sea” and Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River.”
“The period from 1920 to 1960 was brimming with music — there are almost 100 songs that are such good stuff,” said Jonathan Howard, who sings bass for the group.
“It’s so seminal in 20th century music that we thought we should chronicle it,” Howard said. “We’re doing a whole concert, because we thought this project really deserved special treatment.”
Singing on Sunday will be Howard, tenor Paul Phoenix, countertenors David Hurley and Timothy Wayne-Wright, and baritones Christopher Bruerton and Christopher Gabbitas.
There will also be a discussion, free for ticket holders, starting at 3:15 p.m. before the 4 p.m. performance.
Formed in 1968 in England by six choral scholars, King’s Singers are named after King’s College in Cambridge.
Over the years the group has expanded its repertoire to include more than 2,000 songs and nearly 50 recordings over a range of genres.
Nearly three years ago, they decided to collaborate with British choral composer, arranger and jazz musician Alexander L’Estrange to produce the “The Great American Songbook” CD.
L’Estrange and the group had collaborated before, but this was the first time L’Estrange arranged the music for the entire album.
Having one person do it brought a cohesion to the project, said Howard, who, like L’Estrange, graduated from the music program at New College at Oxford University.
Also new for the King’s Singers was the way the group recorded, with each singer laying down his own track before the voices were combined.
“It’s a very different way of working,” Howard said. “[The CD] has a different feel. Singing live is much more acoustic.”
Before arriving in the U.S. in late January, they took the music on the road to Paris, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Budapest.
More familiar with the group’s performances of classical music, audiences, who tend to be very serious, were somewhat surprised by the program.
“It’s almost entirely light music, but it shows that the King’s Singers can do pop successfully,” Howard said.
The group enjoyed tackling the American songs so popular before and after World War II, listening for example to recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
“[The point] of this music is to get inside the harmonies and have fun with it,” Howard said. “Having fun with it is really integral to its success.”
“They feel so modern,” said Howard about the songs. “The writing is contemporary and exciting. ... They’ve stood the test of time.”