The Powerful Voices of the Kulshan Chorus

Disclaimer: I’ve been a follower of the Kulshan Chorus since founder Roger Griffith directed the choir’s first concert in 1987. The choir’s upcoming concerts (two of them–for the first time — at 2 and 7:30 p.m.) on Saturday, May 12, at Bellingham High School, will be the first I have ever missed (it’s my granddaughter’s first birthday).
Artistic director Dustin Willetts granted me permission to attend rehearsal on May 3. I knew ahead of time the songs would not be the foot-stomping, joyful songs, nor the high-spirited songs from around the world that the choir is known for. This time, Willetts has taken the 100-plus singers to a place that may elicit a wide range of emotions from the audiences: anger, grief, sorrow, compassion, pain, and hope.
“Breaking Silence” is about the abuse, indignities, and harm done to women. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a concert that must be heard.
The songs in the program are much more than the #MeToo movement. They are so powerful, so personal, that while they were singing in rehearsal, some members of the choir broke down in tears; yes, even though they had rehearsed the songs for months.
A  few words about Willetts: he takes the singers beyond the boundaries they may have been used to singing in other community choirs. He stretches them, musically and emotionally.
“Sing it to me like you’re trying to tell me something,” he tells them.
“Read the words poetically, artistically, lyrically; come in with gusto!” he instructs.
“Once more, with feeling!”
Like Barbra Streisand is known for her retakes, over and over, until it’s just right, that’s what Willets is aiming for: the “exhaustingly complex you,” he says.
The singers are accompanied by a quartet of the area’s finest musicians: Kristi Gill on piano; John Honeyman on bass; Peter Luis Nenninger on violin; and Cary Stevens on percussion.
And absolutely integral to this program is the choreography of Pam Kuntz, known for her dance and movement programs that deal directly with social issues of importance to our community, such as how we deal with death, homelessness, and family dynamics.
She’s taken three dancers — Kate Stevenson, Vanessa Daines, and Yuki Matsukura — and teamed them with former Kulshan Chorus singer Jen Green, who’s admitted she’s a bit concerned about remembering her steps, and her words for a compelling “dance story” about abuse.
Among the songs that may be familiar: Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” set to music by Jake Runstead; “Human,” by Rag’n’Bone Man; and “Quiet” by MILCK.
Be assured there is hope, though, as evidenced by the final song, Jake Runstead’s “We Can Mend the Sky.”
“When I get intense,” Willetts says to the singers, “it’s all about passion, it’s all about love, because you are capable of incredible things.”
Indeed.
Tickets are $20 general; $15 seniors and students; $5 youth, available in advance at brownpapertickets.com, Community Food Coop and Village Books, and at the door if not sold out. Details: www.kulshanchorus.org.


 

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