Texas Tenors to bring together country and classical sounds to Amp

Illustration by Brianna Deckert

When John Hagen arranges songs to sing with his two best friends, he feels like he’s behind the wheel of a high-end sports car.

“I’ve got three different gears that I can work with,” Hagen said. “I’m able to think outside the box because of what the three of us can cover collectively with our vocals.”

Hagen, along with his two companion gears, JC Fisher and Marcus Collins, make up the Texas Tenors, who will give Chautauquans a taste of their new album, RISE, at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

“People will see some of the things that are on that album before anybody else,” Hagen said.

The album, due out on Sept. 8, is accompanied by a PBS special of the same name. This is following the group’s 2013 PBS special, “You Should Dream,” which won the Tenors their three Emmy Awards. RISE contains a mix of originals and covers including orchestral arrangements of “Amazing Grace” and Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”

The ability to blend multiple elements into a greater whole defines nearly everything about the group. This is most obvious in their treatment of genre. The group’s pieces bring together country and classical music most prominently, but also include references to Broadway, pop and gospel.

“We live by the motto: ‘There’s not a genre we don’t like,’ ” Hagen said. “Genre doesn’t matter as long as it communicates and connects with the crowd. That’s what’s important to us.”

Hagen is driven by the goal of giving every person in the audience a chance to connect with what they’re hearing and watching.

“We like to say it doesn’t matter if you’re 3 or 103 — there’s room for everybody in the show,” he said.

Hagen’s attention to audience inclusivity and positivity reveals itself both in the upbeat tone of many of the songs he arranges and in the way he addresses live crowds.

“We believe in equality and are hopeful that everybody will be treated fairly,” he said. “We end a lot of our shows by saying, ‘Be kind to one another.’ ”

He sees music as a unifying force, describing the feeling of “goosebumps when something really speaks to you” as one that “probably everybody” has experienced.

“People seem to be moved and touched by (music) … and (often) can’t quantify why a song hits (them),” he said. Further, it’s the group’s knack for synthesis that allows the members to prioritize these values.

“We have different skill sets, and between the three of us we cover the business,” Hagan said. “Marcus does a lot of lighting design and working the different agents, JC does a lot with the video elements … and I manage the money.”

Self-management lets the trio establish their own image, tone and content.

“I guess you could say maybe were control freaks. We like keeping our hands on something we built ourselves,” Hagen said. “We wanted to do things the way we wanted to do it and if it didn’t work out, we’re willing to take that responsibility.”

The group’s dedication to independence and steadfast values was tested by the nontraditional  way they rose to fame. The Texas Tenors first joined the national stage when they made it to the top four on “America’s Got Talent” in 2009. Hagen said this process required patience and focus.

“The thing that we told ourselves all the way through it was: We can’t worry about what this person thinks or what that person thinks,” he said. “We have to do what we know how to do and what we want to do, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Hagen described resisting producers’ agendas and deciding that, “this is gonna work for us, or not, because we are who we are.”

Hagen said the group’s dedication to uplifting audience members is important now “more than ever. … There’s just at times a little too much darkness going on. Life is short. … Let’s just be kind to one another.”

He hopes that Friday gives Chautauquans an opportunity to bring kindness to themselves and each other.

“There’s nothing like live music and the arts to feed the soul,” Hagen said.

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The author Hailey Gavin

Hailey Gavin is a native of San Francisco, but she is studying political science, English, and film and media studies at Tufts University in Boston. Outside of producing video and audio stories, she loves watching good movies, writing, hiking and playing soccer. Before coming to Chautauqua, she was in Dublin, Ireland, producing radio stories for Dublin South FM.