Meet one of our Members:
Meet one of our Members:
Sarah Kate Kunkel
Carl moved to Bellingham in the 1990’s and has been involved in the local community choir scene since that time. He sang with both the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship choir and Bellingham Community Chorus before settling into his current role, singing bass with Kulshan, in 2014. Carl appreciates and respects Artistic Director Dustin Willetts’ professionalism and high standards and the level of musical and personal growth that comes from being pushed to achieve more. For him, the real reward isn’t the energy of the performances but the journey to becoming “concert ready”. He says, “I don’t sing with the concert as the goal or target. I sing to challenge myself, get better, and learn new things.” That moment when choir members go from working hard individually on a new or challenging piece of music to clicking together as a group in rehearsal is his favorite moment.
When asked what part of Kulshan’s future he most looks forward to, Carl said he is really glad for the opportunity this season to sing two Z. Randall Stroope pieces again. Kulshan has performed “Amor De Mi Alma” and “We Beheld Once Again the Stars” in past seasons, and will be again as part of the 30th anniversary celebration. He felt the pieces were so challenging the first time around that he sometimes felt “panicked” at rehearsal or while practicing alone. The choir as a whole worked hard on both pieces, but Carl feels that because Dustin inspires such growth, this time around will be “a chance for redemption”.
Sarah Kate was living in Croatia in 2016, studying in an language immersion program, when a family member told her there was a choir from Washington performing in Zagreb. That choir was Kulshan Chorus, and while she wasn’t able to make it to the performance in Zagreb, Sarah Kate found Kushan when she moved to Bellingham in 2017 to attend school. She had experience with musical theater and was looking for a community choir when a Google search brought her to Kulshan Chorus, where she found a home as a soprano. Sarah Kate says that she loves the people that she has met and the community that is built on performing challenging music centered around social justice and peace. “When something is technically perfect it’s slippery - imperfection gives us something to hold onto. Kulshan is that - people coming together imperfectly to make something beautiful.”
Social justice and activism are important to Sarah Kate, so it comes as no surprise that her favorite moment so far was the 2018 “Breaking Silence” concert. Kulshan Chorus partnered with two other local non-profits (Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County) for that concert and was able to donate a percentage of proceeds to both organizations. She feels that financial support is an essential and tangible part of being a true community choir. “We were not just singing to make music, but using our voice to say something.” Looking forward, Sarah Kate is excited about the choir’s new fundraising efforts that will allow for more community outreach. “Art and music can be a force for good and I would like to see more of that.”
Meet of our members: Todd Citron
“…the chorus is a most amazing salve for the harshness of the world.”
One day in the early 1990's I was walking around Lake Padden and happened upon a spirited group of about 20, mostly tie-dye clad, singers singing at some kind of event -- wow! I thought, they are great – very cool. It was not until 1999 that work and family life allowed a small gap in my time to pursue more music in my life and I learned about the Kulshan Chorus, realized that they were that small group at the lake many years earlier, met and auditioned with Roger Griffith, and started my first chorus singing experience -- I've only missed a few seasons since!
As fun and thrilling as the concerts can be, the weekly rehearsals are the heart of the chorus and the reason that I sing. Sometimes it can be hard after a long day to pull myself together to sing for 2 plus hours, yet I usually leave rehearsals feeling rejuvenated and inspired, and I am often reminded that singing with the chorus is a most amazing salve for the harshness of the world.
There were about 60 of us in the chorus when I joined in 1999, and it has been amazing to see both the size, now about 120 (!),the breadth and depth of the music, and the organization itself, grow through the years through the creativity and dedication of many. I have appreciated growing alongside so many wonderfully spirited (and sometimes still tie-dye clad) people. Thanks!
Meet our December 2017 Guest Artist: Gary Giles
who was "...thrilled to have the good fortune of joining such an exceptional choral ensemble as the Kulshan Chorus as guest artist..."
Choosing Joy - featured guest artist Gary Giles!
Gary Giles, who first sang gospel music at the age of 3, says he is thrilled to have the good fortune of joining such an exceptional choral ensemble as the Kulshan Chorus as guest artist for their gospel and spiritual genre Winter Concert: Choosing JOY – a Soul Journey.
Giles began performing professionally as an actor and vocalist in 1983 with the Avante’ Theater Company in a touring production of Ain’t Misbehavin’. Since then he has performed in scores of musicals as well as dramatic and comedic productions. Some of his favorites have been The Wiz (as the Wizard), Purlie (as Rev. Purlie) Home (as Cephas Miles), Working (as Lovin’ Al), Big River (as Jim the runaway slave) in Ragtime (as Coalhouse Walker Jr.) and most recently, since arriving in Bellingham from the City of Brotherly Love in 2015, at the Mount Baker Theatre in Driving Miss Daisy (as Hoke) and in the world premier musical, Marina (as Ivory Jack).
It is with great JOY we welcomed Gary Giles to Kulshan Chorus.
Meet one of our Board Members: Joyce Harlan
“I come back each season because I really enjoy the people I’ve met…”
I have always enjoyed singing, and in 2010 I found myself looking for a creative outlet. I saw an print ad that said Kulshan was auditioning new singers and decided to try even though I was nervous to audition! After that first season I had to take a year off due to health reasons, but was so happy to come back to the choir after my pulmonologist recommended singing for lung health.
I come back each season because I really enjoy the people I have met, and the friends I get to sing with. I like that Kulshan has been making connections with other non-profits and performance groups in Bellingham. This year was the first time I was able to sing with the choir at Bellingham's annual Martin Luther King Jr. event, and I was really moved by the collaboration between the speakers and singers.
My favorite season is probably "Wanderings", every song was in a language foreign to me. Initially I was overwhelmed and doubted that I would be able to keep up. But we just kept at it and after the concert, I felt very accomplished.
Meet one of our Former Board Members and section Leader: Julie ishihara
“I was really intrigued by… the variety of types of music that the choir sang.”
I grew up singing in church choirs and other community choirs and music has always been a part of my life. I first attended a Kulshan concert in 2008 and knew I had to be a part of it. I was really intrigued by the talent level of the soloists and the variety of types of music that the choir sang. It was lots of international music and seemed like the kind of challenge I was looking for. The international trips that the choir takes every few years was also very intriguing to me - really looking forward to our tour of Norway in 2019! Without a doubt I keep singing with the chorus, and volunteer as a board member, because of all the wonderful people in the choir. I also really love the challenging music that we sing, and working with Dustin because he is a great director.
My favorite season so far was the 2014 Songs of Peace and Poetry concert. It was our first season with Dustin as director and he asked us to do kinds of music we had never done before. Song of the Salish Chief really stands out for me - everyone doubted that we could pull it off so we started doing weekly sectionals in order to really get the music down. It was a powerful season, I think it really changed a lot of people in the choir because we realized what we really could accomplish. We had several people come back to singing with us after taking a break because they were moved by that concert.
Meet one of our Members: Joyce Jimerson
“Many of the songs we sing have deep meaning and passion for me.”
A good friend had been encouraging me to join the chorus, but I'd never found the time to audition. About 8 years ago, I was having some medical issues, and it was suggested I see a Naturopath. I looked this naturopath up online, and quite frankly, what she offered sounded quite "woo woo" and I wasn't sure of her scientific credentials, but was up for an adventure.
I told the above friend about this doctor, who came along to observe. At the end of a lengthy procedure, she gave me some suggestions, a print out of foods I should avoid, and foods that were fine, etc, then said that my main problem was my spleen. And I remember her words exactly. She said: "And you know how to strengthen your spleen!" I said "no..." She said: Singing!
At that point my friend and I had a good laugh. Then I joined the chorus. I have no idea how my spleen is doing now, but I'm having fun working part of my brain that I'd stopped using after my high school band years.
What makes the Kulshan Chorus special to me, is it's emphasis on peace, social justice and community. Many of the songs we sing have deep meaning and passion for me.
My favorite concert was the concert where we performed the Salish Sea. I had never heard music like that. While it was moving and passionate, it was also very difficult. We worked incredibly hard. I suspect all of us were a bit afraid it might fall apart--as the music itself was so difficult and unusual.I was amazed when it all came together at concert time. My husband said he was teary eyed during parts! That was the first time he had been moved at a Kulshan concert.
Meet former Board Member: Dave Laster
Served on the Kulshan Chorus Board for seventeen years and still singing…
Dave joined the chorus in 1996, as a bass singer. He was a Board Member for seventeen years. “I joined the chorus in 1996. My wife and I had just retruned from Europe with 12 antique clocks …we had Roger Griffith check the over. While we were there he asked, as he apparently did to everyone, ‘Do you sing?’ - At one time he estimated that half of the chorus began as his clock customers.”
Dave has been on several of the tours with the chorus. One of his favorite stories is from the France/Switzerland tour:
"On our chorus trip to France we were scheduled to sing in the town square of Sarlat, a tourist town. With the Square filled the City decided we should sing instead inside their walled churchyard. After some exploring we found our way inside to sing to an empty churchyard. It was only later we found out that people outside heard our music only to be frustrated trying to find their way inside! We had a big audience without even knowing it!"
Meet Our Board President: Sonja Lee
"I joined Kulshan Chorus in 2001 when asked by my sister to chaperone her youngest daughter who wanted to sing with the chorus..."
I joined Kulshan Chorus in 2001 when asked by my sister to chaperone her youngest daughter who wanted to sing with the chorus. I was hooked thereafter by the message and energy of the chorus, was recruited to join the board in 2006 and again recruited into the role of Board President in 2008.
As Board President I supervise all activities of the corporation, execute all contracts, set the agenda, preside over and facilitate board meetings, work with various committees both internally and externally, seek venues and outreach opportunities, donors/donations and volunteers, and do whatever is needed to ensure the long-term viability and success of the chorus. One major accomplishment as Board President has been the successful transition from our Founding Director to our Artistic Director Dustin Willetts. A national search brought Dustin to us and he has been simply a joy to have as our Artistic Director. Breathing new life into the chorus, he continually expands our musical knowledge and creates concerts that are truly moving experiences. The board is looking forward to a bright future for the Kulshan Chorus and I am happy to help guide the journey!
It seems like every new season becomes a "new" favorite with Dustin at the helm. This upcoming season "Choosing Joy - A Soul Journey" likely will be no exception. The music is diverse in exploring the depths of the "soul" -- think Soweto Gospel Choir, Civil Rights, Traditional Spirituals and songs of praise and jubilation. Oh Happy Day! I can't wait for this one to hit the stage, it's going to be a blast!
Hmm, a favorite song, again so hard to call, and this is a song we have not done in quite some time but I adore "Hold On Just a Little While Longer" as the message is so meaningful to me ... because you know, "everything's going to be alright."
Meet one of our Members: Sister Mary
"Not only do I get to sing, but my heart sings too!"
I first heard about the Kulshan Chorus over 10 years ago when a friend invited me to join her at one of the concerts. When I heard them sing, I excitedly told my friend “I’ve got to sing with this group.” How is it I had never heard them before this? The next day, I contacted the director and inquired about what I needed to do to sing with them. Two weeks later after a quick and easy audition, I was given some music and I’ve been singing with them ever since.
As I got to know others, I discovered that not only was it fun to sing in a group again, but these people were so much fun to be with. We worked hard and we also seemed to just enjoy each other’s company.
Over the years the chorus has not only increased in size, but we have expanded to sing a wider variety of music, many even learning to read music. I have sung in various sized groups throughout my life and I continue to learn new things. No matter how tired I am before rehearsal, I seem to gain fresh energy just being together with them. Music is more than just singing “ink spots on a page”. Being with the Kulshan Chorus can be soothing, uplifting, humorous at times, joyful, hard work and also fulfilling and healing. Not only do I get to sing, but my heart sings too
Meet our Board Secretary: Fran Maas
I joined the Chorus 21 years ago. I have always sung informally and I used to also lead my elementary school students in song, almost daily, when I was a teacher. Before I joined the chorus, I realized that I missed having choral music in my life. My husband Matt was walking to Roger’s house to pick up clock movements and I walked with him. On the spot, Roger asked both of us to rehearse for the Chorus. Amid the try-out there was a cacophony of sound, with all the clocks showing off with their unique voices. I knew then we were in for an interesting ride.
It is hard to describe how it feels to sing with 100+ voices on stage. We are all finally attuned to the Director and to each other. We sing with more passion than we have at any rehearsal. My heart tingles with joy. This feeling especially resonates when we sing the African Freedom songs.
A year after I joined the chorus we were invited to sing on the Mount Baker stage with Judy Collins for her holiday special. During the concert, for at least two songs she turned her back to the audience and came close the Kulshan Chorus and sang directly to us. As a child of the 60’s it was a dream come true.
The Kulshan Chorus was invited by Darrell Hilaire, Chairman of the Lummi Nation, to participate in an Honoring Ceremony in the Long House at Lummi Nation. In the first few months of the year, the Lummis had lost many people to drugs, alcohol and suicides. The Ceremony was to honor all the people who helped facilitate their dignified partings – casket makers, food preparators, flower arrangers, etc. We were invited to sing songs of peace and were also invited to participate in a communal meal. Before we took to the stage we were ushered to a back room where each of us were draped in a native blanket which was pinned to our left side, over our hearts. We sang in between native testimonials about each person who had had departed, rather than a concert. It was one of the most inclusive and touching moments I have ever experienced.
The Kulshan Chorus is a lively chorus that is fun to sing with. Sometimes music is very challenging, but rewarding. As a chorus we have grown musically under Dustin Willett’s direction, In our concerts, we sing with very talented musicians who enhance the musical experience for the audience,
Over the years, the Chorus has embarked on many international tours. In addition to singing and sightseeing we have interacted with native residents, either in song or in philanthropic endeavors. While in Ecuador, we took boats to visit and spend the night with a tribe who lived in the Amazon. They didn’t speak English or Spanish, but an evening of song and dance didn’t need any translation.
Meet one of our Members: Julie McElroy
"Joining other voices to create and play through our own sound has a been a long-time desire of mine. ..."
How long have you been with the chorus? This is my first season as a member of the Kulshan Chorus.
What made you join / How did you hear about us? Joining other voices to create and play through our own sound has a been a long-time desire of mine. With little musical background, my interest to sing has spawned into a passion, and I finally decided to attempt becoming part of the Kulshan Chorus. Being a native to Bellingham, I had known of the Kulshan Chorus, but it was my Mom who sparked my interest and shed light on the authenticity of this group. The intention and spirit of the music created from these individuals is beautiful and significant, and I greatly desired to be a part it! For myself, singing helps me unwind from stress, reconnect with myself and others, as well as promotes physical healing and wellness. Years ago, I'd had a thyroidectomy where there was some nerve damage to a region that served my voice and I found that there were some "empty notes" in my vocal range. Singing as a Tenor II targets a specific area of my voice where I've needed to add strength and healing. As I rebuild the power source to my voice, I've found myself enriched with this incredible community of singers and individuals who magnify inspiration and are committed to optimism and hope. It is the greatest honor to be one voice amongst many within this group. The passion to create, inspire and invoke awareness is nurtured within this chorus, and I feel the work that happens through these voices is prevalent and necessary.
Have you seen the chorus in the past and if so, what was one of your favorite seasons and why? Having been living in Portland for many years, I was out of the loop of what was going on in Bellingham. It wasn't until last season that I came to a performance, where my soul was danced away on a magical and powerful journey in the Water Concert. I felt such strong emotions throughout that performance, and just was in awe with the deliberate and beautiful work of the entire group. I loved the boldness, the delicateness, the choreography, the pain, and the fun. I was so drawn to the magic of this chorus, I was inclined to be a part of their sound and motion immediately! But easing into things with "Into the Mystic" with the Atlantics, and rolling soon into "Africa" by ToTo, is a recipe for some serious heart melting, and I loved it.
What's one of your favorite songs this season? There are so many songs that have become important to me in this concert, and a handful that are my favorites! But I will say that "Pass On the Love" has a direct line to my spirit that reflects a crucial message, that is time relevant and so valuable. My favorite words in it are "...the change begins with me, we got to break through the fear, bust through the hate, reach out our arms, pass on the love." Ohh, it's going to be good!
Meet one of our Board Members: Fumio Otsu
"Encouraged by a friend, my wife and I attended our first Kulshan Chorus concert in spring of 2008...."
Responsibility: Music Distribution and House manager for the Spring and Winter concerts.
Encouraged by a friend, my wife and I attended our first Kulshan Chorus concert in spring of 2008. We thoroughly enjoyed the concert and my wife joined the chorus for the winter 2008 concert. Since 2008 I have attended and enjoyed the Kulshan Chorus concerts each year.
Over the years I have attended, the Beatles concert was my favorite because there was high level of energy and audience participation. My favorite Kulshan chorus song was the City of New Orleans. It was sung at two concerts I attended.
In 2010, I volunteered for ushering at the concerts. I began ushering for each concert and in 2015 I also became responsible for music distribution to the chorus members and other participants.
My level of responsibility for the Kulshan Chorus continued to increase. Then in the spring of 2017, I became the House Manager for the spring and winter concerts. Along with the responsibility of House Manager, I became a director for the Kulshan Chorus. I also continued with music distribution.
Meet our Associate Director: Mary Somerville
“Kulshan Chorus brought me back to music…”
[I was a speaker at Bellingham’s second annual Martin Luther King Day celebration in 1994, heard the Kulshan Chorus and was drawn to the power and message of the music. I joined the chorus immediately!] At the time of the MLK event, except for a couple weddings I had not done any singing in 14 years! When I lived in Baltimore, I sang with a fantastic large classical-repertoire choir, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and with its smaller chamber group. I was also the mezzo-soprano soloist at a large church. When I moved to Bellingham in 1980, I couldn't find anything similar, so I gave up singing and got involved with sports - competitive cycling and teaching aerobics. But as the years went by I missed singing more and more, and the Kulshan Chorus brought me back to music.
Mary serves as Kulshan Chorus' Associate Director. She has worn many hats for the Kulshan Chorus over the years:
I also served as the de facto membership person for the chorus for years and created and kept up the rosters, started the (now way too big) bulk mailing list, and created the publicity mailing pieces and concert programs for quite some time. For a number of years I also helped [former Director] Roger [Griffith] plan concerts, including selecting songs for each season, and transcribed a lot of arrangements.
Meet one of our Members: Mark Springer
"I joined in the winter of 1988, about three months after moving to Bellingham..."
How long have you been with the chorus? I joined in the winter of 1988, about three months after moving to Bellingham. I think the Chorus had about thirty-some people in it at the time and was rehearsing in the Roeder Home.
What made you join / How did you hear about the chorus? I don't remember how the subject came up at work, but my former colleague and Kulshan Chorus member Floyd Lewis found out I liked to sing and asked if I was interested in joining. I said yes, and while I've missed a few concerts due to travel, I've sung every season since.
What was one of your favorite seasons and why? I find "favorite" questions hard to answer because I like lots of different things in general, and music is no exception to that. So I guess I like seasons where we have musical variety, that is, we're either singing a lot of music I'm not real familiar with and/or singing a concert with songs from very different traditions but which more or less tie together in a common theme.
What’s one of your favorite songs? Another tough question, for the same reason. Of course my favorites are going to have great tenor parts, so I guess one of my favorites over the last few years is Omnia Sol.