A Decade of Swingledom – Willy Eteson Says Goodbye
by Florian Städtler
Last Tuesday I caught a glimpse of a cappella history. After more than ten years of being the high tenor (and business director) of the London based Swingle Singers, Richard James “Willy” Eteson had his leaving do: He said farewell and goodbye with an extraordinary concert and an after-show party that was both a Swingles family meeting and a summit of UK and EU a cappella luminaries. Ward Swingle himself was attending the event and conducted an amazing encore: 35 (!) Swingle and Ex-Swingle Singers sang his arrangement of “Country Dances” – the crowd went wild and will never forget this special night in a small theatre in Holborn/London.
For many people this was a night of mixed emotions: For Willy himself, who is going to run a British deli shop after the end of his pro singing career. For Jo Goldsmith-Eteson, his wife and Swingles soprano, who had her last concert with her husband and the first with his successor, new Swingles tenor Oliver Griffiths. For the six other members of the group, who will miss Willy’s experience both as a performer and as business advisor. And of course for all the people who love this wonderful chap, his wit, his humour and his friendship. Willy, we all will miss you and you are one more reason to come to London on a regular basis (even if I will never get used to lukewarm beer without bubbles).
Thinking about it from the business side of things, changes in professional a cappella groups (and in amateur groups as well) are both a natural process and maybe the biggest challenge for a musical project. How to keep the spirit, the uniqueness alive, how to follow a long-term artistic strategy, how to keep the everyday business going when long-time members say goodbye? Ask Rockapella, where Kevin Wright left after almost a decade. Ask The King’s Singers who had to replace Stephen Connolly. Ask the a cappella miracle Naturally 7, where Jamal Reed called it a day. Or what about the icon of Scandinavian a cappella, The Real Group, who will say goodbye to Peder Karlsson after 25 (!!) years?
Life will go on. Because the outstanding groups have such strength and spirit (and professional organisation), that the core of what makes them unique will remain. New, talented singers will come and replace their predecessors, bringing the freshness and excitement that every running system needs from time to time. And if leaving means such fantastic events as last Tuesday’s in London, saying goodbye becomes a bit easier. By the way: I will test this kind of experience again next Sunday, flights are booked to Stockholm. For a double concert of Rajaton and The Real Group plus what seems to be a Nordic A Cappella Summit Party. I looking forward to meeting my yet virtual a cappella friends Joakim Skog, Jussi Chydenius (Rajaton) and Sebastian Rilton (Ex-Rilton’s Vänner) together with Emma, Katarina, Anders, Jalkan and (of course) Peder of the one and only Real Group. Peder Karlsson, a living legend of a cappella and a role model in music education will celebrate his career…and his birthday!
I will certainly post a little ditty about my first trip to Sweden, but before that send you some of the snapshots from Willy Eteson’s Leaving Do. Feel free to post your comments and let me know what you think about line-up changes in a cappella groups.