In a typically lively conversation with Roger Griffith, such topics as social justice, antique clock repair, world music and cultural diversity are likely to pop up.
That's why music lovers were often surprised by the themes when they saw Griffith, 73, direct the eclectic Kulshan Chorus over the past 25 years.
However, Griffith's last local concert as director won't surprise lovers of The Beatles. He calls the April 27 event at Western Washington University "The Second Great Beatles Sing-along."
Griffith, the musical director and arranger, and his wife, the accomplished and personable soprano Anne Griffith, will have solo performances among the 31 songs to be presented, including 23 popularized by The Beatles.
Question: Roger, are those your swan songs?
Roger: It's our last local event under my direction, then the finale will occur during a tour of Costa Rica in June. We had our "First Great Beatles Sing-along" in spring 2011 and it sold out.
This concert will also feature The Walrus (a local band that plays oldies), joined by Paul Klein and Mark Kelly of The Atlantics. There will also be eight songs taken from some of my favorites.
Q: What's the focus of Kulshan Chorus?
Roger: Our focus has always been to sing world music in honor of human diversity and social justice. That has never changed. Our concerts have featured world music such as Polish carols, Eastern European Yiddish music, traditional American jazz, French cabaret, Celtic concerts and Welsh songs, an Afro-Cuban concert, various African dialects, and so on.
We sing in the language of the original music and we translate the songs in the program, so people can follow along and learn. What we've done is very unorthodox; we're not under the aegis of any other organization. We really are a self-supporting nonprofit.
Q: Considering you began your career as a high school teacher, that has been a big part for you, right?
Roger: Absolutely. A big piece of the picture for us is education. I don't see myself as a teacher; I see myself as a facilitator because my skill is to assist people in learning. The vast majority of our listeners have not heard the music in its national language. People who come in with a background in that language sometimes get tears. We try to sing that language as close to perfectly as possible.
Q: Talk about the chorus' travels.
Roger: We've taken tours to Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Romania, and about 50 of our members will sing as part of a trip run by another organization to Costa Rica.
I'll always remember how we sang "From a Distance" in Romanian. We knew we couldn't possibly give an entire concert in Romanian and sing as well as they do in their own language, but they appreciated that we made an effort with that song.
Q: How did the chorus begin?
Roger: We began 25 years ago in Flip Breskin's living room, with a little more than a dozen of us. Karen FitzGerald and I were the co-founders. We were looking for an opportunity to sing that was not part of classical or religious groups, or a lodge choir.
The chorus quickly outgrew the original venue and then outgrew the Rotunda Room of the Whatcom Museum. Now we have some 125 singers. Floyd Lewis, a professor at Western, gave us our name a year or two into our existence.
Q: How many concerts has the chorus given?
Roger: Probably close to 150. Over the years we've had more than 1,200 people sing with us. We've performed at Whatcom Peace and Justice events and at MLK Day events, along with giving regular winter and spring concerts.
Anne: In the 1990s we opened for Judy Collins at the Mount Baker Theatre. That was memorable.
Q: Why retire?
Roger: Twenty-five years is enough. There are many things we want to do. Anne is a wonderful singer and I want to support her music. We'd like to finish remodeling a 500-year-old stone house we own in France. We spend the summer months there. I'd also like to get my guitar into shape.
Anne: We absolutely love to travel together. Roger and I met 20 years ago when I joined the Kulshan Chorus.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.
The Second Great Beatles Sing-along is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Western Washington University's Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre. Tickets - $16 adults; $13 students, seniors and military in uniform; $7 for youths 12 and younger - are available at 360-650-6146, tickets.wwu.edu, Village Books and the downtown Community Food Co-op.
VIDEO OF REHEARSAL
Go to bellinghamherald.com/multimedia to watch Roger Griffith lead the Kulshan Chorus in a rehearsal for the Beatles sing-along.