The Ten Tenors were in a rehearsal a little more than two years ago when they were all nearly simultaneously bombarded with phone calls and text messages.
“Our phones all started going off, letting us all know David Bowie had passed away,” said David Newall. “At the time, we were rehearsing David Bowie’s 'Heroes.' We stopped the rehearsal and we put that song aside for a while.
“A few weeks later, we thought that there was something to that coincidence. We wanted to do something that paid tribute to artists we had lost. That year we lost David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen.”
The something that the Australian group did was the album “Wish You Were Here,” which includes their harmony-filled versions of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” along with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and the disc-ending “Heroes.”
Now The Ten Tenors are on the road, about to wrap up their tour in support of the album with a show Monday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
One of Australia’s greatest entertainment success stories, The Ten Tenors, over the last nearly quarter-century, recorded six gold or platinum albums, sold more than 3.5 million concert tickets for more than 2,000 shows and, via television and festival performances, played to more than 90 million people.
The group includes tenors trained in classical music, tenors who come from musical theater and tenors who are pop singers. That gives them great versatility. But the fact that there are 10 singers — rather than the usual three or four in a vocal group — presents an arranging and performing challenge.
“We love the challenge,” Newall said from Dearborn, Michigan, on Friday. “We’re so fortunate. The group started 23 years ago in Australia. The original pianist still works with us, Steven Baker. He arranges for us. He knows all our voices and how they work together. So he arranges particular voices for particular sounds. He’s too busy now to travel with us. He does all kind of arranging and Hollywood scores. But about half his time, he’s arranging for us and they’re wonderful.
“A lot of us come from a choral and choir background. This is where we were singing a cappella, without music, singing with each other and blending with each other. Before we ever get together with the band and the loud sound, we’re in the studio listening to and blending with each other.”
And the Ten Tenors continue to do just that every day.
“We rehearse three, four hours every day, even when we’re on tour,” Newall said. “It’s a challenge, but that’s all we have to do. Our sound check is usually at 4:30 or 5 and we go about right up to when the concert starts. We do warmups, listen to the recording of the night before, hear what we can improve on and rehearse. We do this every single day without exception.”
So after singing the songs for nearly two years in the studio and on tour, do you have a favorite?
“Absolutely,” he said. “It is the title cut, so it might sound a little pat. I love our arrangement of ‘Wish You Were Here,’ Pink Floyd’s sound. It’s beautiful and harmony-rich. To be honest, I luxuriate in it every time we sing it.”
So, how about the other side of the coin? Are there songs that are a challenge?
“I came through music theater,” Newall said. “I came through doing musicals and live performances. We have a lot of classical arias. For some of the guys, that’s in their wheelhouse. To me, that wasn’t something I was trained in. It’s the biggest challenge for me, to create a sound that’s a little foreign to me.”
The Lincoln concert will be one of the last times that The Ten Tenors do the full “Wish You Were Here” show. The group will soon switch over to its Christmas show, a 23-song affair that will play in Scottsbluff next month. Then the group will head back into the studio to make a new record — which will be followed by another U.S. tour, likely starting late next year.
“We’ll absolutely be back here,” Newall said. “It’s such a big country, we can tour here often. There aren’t enough big cities in Australia for us to do that. We’re ready to make a new record. But we really want to finish this tour strong. I love these songs and paying homage to those great artists.”