Q&A with tenor Spencer McKnight

Tenor Spencer McKnight has quickly become an SSO audience favourite having made his debut with us in our 2014 Messiah performances.  His effortless coloratura and exceptional diction make him the perfect Messiah tenor.

Fresh off performances of his recital program “Songs of the Great War”, a program outlining the music of the composer soldiers of World War One, Spencer returns to the SSO this season for our Messiah performances and our Bach Magnificat in May.

How did you discover you wanted to be a singer?

I was originally planning on finishing a political science degree and working in the world of politics – however I found that I was increasingly spending more time concentrating on music. I realized that it was my true passion. I haven’t regretted the decision to fully commit myself to music since then!

What’s your favourite part of Messiah?

My favourite aria is But Who May Abide…For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire… and I wish I could sing it! I think the presto section of Refiner’s Fire is one of the most exciting moments in the whole work. Inside I am just a tenor who wants to sing mezzo and alto rep!

Do you remember the first time you saw Messiah?

This may sound awful… but I haven’t seen a full performance of Messiah. When I was young I saw some excerpts of it done by St. Peter’s Chorus. I have only been involved in performances of it in the last few years, however I tend to listen to Messiah all year long. I just never get sick of the music.

What makes Handel’s music attractive for you? 

Some of the things that make Handel’s music so much fun can also be what makes it hard. Some of the very exposed moments are both difficult and enjoyable. I think that’s why it’s easy to love singing Handel – you always have to be on your “A” game to sing it well. The long coloratura moments in Messiah can be extremely difficult for the singers as well. That is what makes it so exciting to listen to!

What oratorio have you always wanted to sing?

Growing up listening to a lot of Verdi… I have to say I want to one day sing Verdi’s Requiem. The tenor gets one of the most beautiful arias in it with the Ingemisco.

Is there a tenor who has had a lasting impact on you? 

I spent most of my teenage life listening to Jose Carreras recordings. I would come home from school and start up YouTube – and search up anything and everything that Jose Carreras ever sang. I would credit him with teaching me how to sing pianissimo.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

“If you can think of doing absolutely anything else…do that”. And I can honestly say I can’t imagine doing anything else in the world.

Do you get nervous before taking the stage? 

I only get nervous if I don’t feel prepared, otherwise I don’t get that nervous. Being nervous is usually just adrenaline that you can focus on using on your performance

What prep goes in to an oratorio performance?

Preparing for a performance with an orchestra is very different that with just a pianist. You need to know what every instrument is doing underneath you – which will help you feel far more comfortable. If you are prepared you can almost feel as though you are just floating on top of what the orchestra does below you.

Do you have any special warm-ups before a performance? 

I have a whole process of warm-ups that I do every day that my voice teacher uses in his teaching. I just do those the day of a performance and a few of them before the performance. The whole group of warm ups takes about 20-30 minutes to do, but once I’ve done them I feel like I can sing almost anything.

What do you tell people who’ve never been to Messiah about experiencing it live? 

I would say that 276 years can’t be wrong, things don’t stay this popular for that long if people don’t love them! Come out and see it – I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you are nervous – I would suggest coming to the Sing-Along version. There isn’t a more enjoyable performance for audience and singers in the city!

You can hear Spencer as our tenor soloist for the upcoming Messiah performances on December 15th and 16th.

Visit www.spencermcknighttenor.ca for more information!



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