(Photo by Timothy Park)
The Redmond Community Choir is a nonprofit organization that is also one of Central Oregon Community College’s Community Education Programs. The choir provides a welcoming environment for singers of all skill levels to find community, practice and perform their craft with like-minded members. According to the founder and director of the choir, Ken Piarulli, the choir was founded due to a lack of options for local singers.
“I was looking around for an opportunity to join a choir, but I discovered that Redmond didn’t have much to offer in that regard,” Ken said. “I figured Redmond was big enough to support a choir, so long story short, I started one.”
Ken was raised in a musical family in New York state and recalls taking piano and violin lessons at just five or six years old, “I always knew I wanted to pursue music,” he said. Throughout his years in New York, Ken performed as a pianist for jazz trios, big bands and even as a soloist.
A graduate from Syracuse with a master’s degree in music education, Ken decided to “give the West Coast a try” and moved to Oregon, home of his son and daughter in law, in 2018. After the move, Ken found himself with more time on his hands and decided to pursue his idea of creating a choir for his new community of Redmond, “My wife didn’t think I was crazy, so I took that as a good sign and went for it,” Ken said.
Ken’s first step was to contact the local community college, COCC, to see if they would be receptive to the idea. Fortunately for Ken and the current choir members, COCC was excited to help out and take part in the founding, “COCC was very receptive to the idea, and sent out a sign-up notice in the spring of 2019 to gauge local interest,” Ken said. “I was not expecting as many people to sign up as they did.”
The college was able to collect 85 signatures from individuals who would be interested in joining the choir; far more than first expected.
With community interest proven and an experienced musician at the helm, COCC’s music department met with Ken to move the plan forward. Echoing the overall sentiment at the college, the music department was very excited about the idea. In the fall of 2019, the first Redmond Community Choir was formed with 75 registered members.
One of the founding principles of the choir was a goal to keep things as accessible and welcoming as possible. According to Ken, this is done in two ways, “We don’t require auditions, to allow people who might be nervous or think they aren’t good enough to join, “ he said. “We also aim to keep things as affordable as possible.”
To keep things financially affordable, COCC agreed to keep registration fees as low as possible. The concerts themselves are free to the public, so to keep the choir members from having to front any fees, the Redmond Community Choir nonprofit was founded. “The nonprofit is a vehicle that allows us to hire musicians for concerts and to pay for other expenses,” Ken said.
The choir’s inaugural concert was a successful endeavor that filled the Redmond High School auditorium. But, soon after, the year 2020 would take its toll. COVID and the resulting lockdowns hit Oregon, and the choir’s future was put into stasis, unable to gather as a group for practices, much less public performances.
“We were put on hold for about two and a half years,” Ken said. “In fall of 2022, we bounced back with 50 or so members. We were supposed to have a performance in December that year, but the weather said otherwise, so we rescheduled for January.”
The return concert was another success, and with the lockdown behind them, the Redmond Community Choir is currently rehearsing for a spring concert, held on the first of May at Redmond High School. In their third concert ever, the choir will be mixing things up with a show half composed of classic and traditional choral works, while the other half of the show will showcase popular Broadway showtunes.
For the time being, Ken and the choir have plans to perform twice a year; one spring show, and one fall show. Ken expects to see the choir continue growing in the coming years, and has some plans for future shows, “It’s possible that in the future, we’ll do shows in more areas that require travel, like Eugene, Portland and various festivals,” Ken said. “We are also open to the idea of collaborating with other musicians in the area. Some major works require a larger choir and a full orchestra, and we’d love to bring those works to our community.”
To Ken, the choir is all about community. He says that one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of being part of the choir is to see such a unique, diverse and passionate community rise around his love for music. “It’s a beautiful thing to get together for a few hours a week, all people of different backgrounds, and just make music together,” Ken said. “The community drives me to do what I do.”