Mary Somerville to direct Kulshan Chorus' 'A Joyful Noise'

The Kulshan Chorus presents its annual winter concert, "A Joyful Noise," at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Western Washington University's Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, led by interim director Mary Somerville.

Somerville assumed the directorship of the 90-member chorus after founding director Roger Griffith retired in May.

The longtime Bellingham band The Atlantics will perform with the chorus. For concert details, go to kulshanchorus.org.

Here is Somerville's take on her musical life. She was born in Baltimore and grew up the nearby suburb of Towson. She currently the administrative assistant at Congregation Beth Israel.

Question: What's you background in music?

Answer: I attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and graduated with a double major in music and religion. My mother became ill during my senior year, so after graduation I came back to Towson to be with her.

After she passed away that fall, I immersed myself in as much music as I could. My father was singing with a wonderful large chorale, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and he encouraged me to join, which I did. It turned out to be one of the great joys of my life so far.

Q: What brought you to Bellingham?

A: I moved to Bellingham on Feb. 29, 1980, to take a job offer from an old high school friend. I'd visited the area a couple years earlier and had fallen in love with it, and relocated because I felt I needed to make a change in my life. At the time I thought it was probably a temporary move, but after 33 years I think I'm here to stay.

Q: Which groups have you performed?

A: I've been singing in choirs since elementary school. My dad was the baritone soloist at our church, and I grew up with music in the house every day. While in college I sang with every vocal group the music department had to offer, and after graduation I was the mezzo-soprano soloist at a large Baltimore church in addition to singing with the Choral Arts Society and several other groups.

Here in Bellingham I sing with the Kulshan Chorus, the Whatcom Chorale and the Bellingham Festival of Music's Festival Chorus. I haven't done any theater since moving to Bellingham, but was in a number of musicals and plays in high school, college, and post-grad, including playing Eliza in "My Fair Lady."

I'd love to do something theatrical again, maybe someday after I retire! I studied piano from fourth grade through senior year in high school, but switched to singing as my primary means of musical expression when I discovered I couldn't fake my way out of a memory lapse during a piano recital.

While I have no training at all, I love to dance and will do so with abandon whenever a good tune is being played.

Q: What's your history with Kulshan Chorus?

A: I joined the Kulshan Chorus in 1994 after hearing the group sing at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. I got very involved with the chorus in a number of ways, including serving on the board of directors for many years and even directing a song or two in concerts.

When Kulshan Chorus founder and musical director Roger Griffith announced his retirement, the search committee asked if I would consider serving as interim director for this season, and I was honored to accept the invitation.

Q: What can people expect at Saturday's concert?

A: The concert's theme, "A Joyful Noise," came to me very early on. I wanted to put together a group of songs that were joyous, uplifting, inspiring and beautiful, plus a few that were just plain fun.

I couldn't think of a better group of musicians to help me craft this vision than The Atlantics, and I'm so excited that they will be performing with us on Saturday.

Our program includes some Kulshan Chorus favorites from years past, some from more recent concerts, and some new tunes. While the songs cover a variety of styles and themes (and centuries), they're united by a commonality of joy: the joyfulness of hope in the face of adversity, the joy found in expressions of faith, the joy inherent in the defiance of oppression, the joy of rocking out to a great beat or making people laugh, and the simple joy of making beautiful music together in community.

After this concert, I'm looking forward to rejoining the chorus as a singer under the leadership of our new director, Dustin Willetts, who will take over in January.

Q: Why is important to you?

A: I believe that music is essential to humanity, and can speak to us on a much deeper level than we realize. As musicians, we can never know just how a performance will affect those who experience it.

The joy of performing is the magic that is created in the moment - the connection forged between performer and audience - which has the power to touch others in ways we can't imagine.

This is something I've experienced myself countless times both as a listener and a participant, and it's what I hope we will bring to our audience on Dec. 14. We are planning for a joyful celebration, and invite the community to join us!