Article and photos by Anne E. O’Malley
This is a golden anniversary year for Kaua`i Chorale, turning 50. Usually, there are two concerts a year, one in winter and another in spring, but Director Lois Ricciardi says to watch for special performances throughout 2013, including a lu`au bash some time in October, flash mobs and a documentary that’s in the works.
While the Chorale turns 50, this year also marks the beginning of Ricciardi’s 25th, or silver anniversary with the Chorale. She’s served in two separate engagements, from January 1979 to mid-1983 and again from 1994 to the present.
It’s the perfect job for this skilled director who plays piano, violin, alto saxophone, trumpet and organ, and has a working knowledge of wind, brass and percussion instruments because of her schooling.
“I love music,” says Ricciardi. “I love the directing aspect.
“I love seeing the black notes on a white page of music come to life. I love to see the joy on people’s faces when in the beginning they complain they don’t like this song, or, ‘We’re never gonna get there,’ to ‘Wow, that was wonderful!’”
Meticulous in her preparation, Ricciardi researches tons of choral literature and draws ideas from personal contacts she’s made through years of attending choral workshops.
Only then does she begin to shape a program that matches the purpose of the nonprofit chorale as stated in its articles of incorporation — to contribute to the cultural and fine arts climate of Kaua`i via volunteer musical events. She never shrinks from the difficult.
In her career with the chorale, Ricciardi has directed hundreds of pieces. Among her top three favorites are Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein, The Messiah by George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Possibly the most challenging of the three, she says, was the Chichester Psalms, a piece the Chorale performed twice — once with the Honolulu Symphony and again with Kaua`i musicians. Written in Hebrew, she says it has difficult rhythms.
Initially panicked that the Chorale might not pull it off, she says that in fact, “It turned out to be awesome.”
Says Ricciardi, “I have a very passionate spot for the Kaua`i Chorale because it is rewarding to see people grow, as opposed to taking excellent singers that already know a lot.”
Often, the results exceed the singers’ expectations — and sometimes, her own.
If, as the song says, “Gotta sing…,” then Kaua`i Chorale offers a spot for singers on the island. Roughly 65 strong, the group holds a broad appeal, drawing from the young and the old, the newbies and the long-time songsters.
The youngest person in the Chorale, at age 10, is new member Ella Marcil.
“I like being around older people,” says Marcil, who checked it out before making a commitment. “It makes me feel we can do great things.”
Shirley Iha, a member for about 30 years, says that she enjoys that the members just love to sing, regardless of their background and training.
Joanne Nakamura, a 40-year member and a church musician who plays organ and piano at the United Church of Christ in Hanapepe, says, “It’s very thrilling when we’ve done something very hard and we’ve done it well.”
Diana Portillo, 17, is in her first season. Another member heard her sing and asked her to join.
“I got chills when I came,” says Portillo. “This is where I belong.”
Says Paul Curtis, a member for 30 years and a lifelong singer, “If you like or love to sing, come. It doesn’t matter if you can’t read music — nobody’s turned away!”
Wes Cronk, president of the chorale and a member the past six years or so, says what keeps him returning is, “The joy of singing and joy of communicating music to people in our community — unity.”
Melvin Gallagher founded the chorale in the 1960s. He served as the Minister of Music for the Kaua’i United Churches of Christ and was a teacher of piano, organ and voice.
Ricciardi met him before he left. She was just coming out of the doldrums following two years of acute homesickness for New York and had become the organist and choir director at Lihu`e United Church.
“I took some organ lessons from Mel Gallagher to figure it out, and that was the beginning,” says Ricciardi. “I was no longer homesick — no time!”
She continues, “Having a like in music isn’t a decision; it just is a part of you and you can’t push it aside — even if you wanted to.”
And clearly, she doesn’t.
Kaua`i Chorale meets on Mondays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Island School in Puhi. Turn into Kaua`i Community College Campus and continue past the college buildings to the Island School sign. No experience is necessary. There are no auditions. For more information, call Mary at 808-821-1432.