Artist Profile: Dustin Willets makes debut as artistic director of Kulshan Chorus

Dustin Willets is the new artistic director of the 80-member Kulshan Chorus.
Dustin Willets is the new artistic director of the 80-member Kulshan Chorus. COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Dustin Willets' email sign-off signature - he's the new artistic director of the 80-member Kulshan Chorus - gives an idea of how musically active he is. He's also director of creative arts for Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Marysville, and is on the board of directors for Seattle Children's Chorus.

Currently, he commutes to Bellingham from his home in Snohomish County.

Willets, who received his bachelor's and master's degrees in music from Western Oregon University, will direct his first Kulshan Chorus concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at Bellingham High School.

Sonja Lee, Kulshan Chorus' board president, has this to say about how he's leading the chorus in songs for the "Poetry and Peace" concert.

"Dustin is inspiring all of us to be better musicians, taking us to levels we have never experienced as a chorus. The music he has chosen for this concert is diverse in mood and energy, running the gamut of emotions - moving, inspirational, challenging, thought-provoking, sad, beautiful, joyful and upbeat."

Here's more about Willets, now, he says, having just begun his third decade of life.

Question: When did you first consider music as a profession?

Answer: I was a junior in high school when I first considered music as a career choice. I wanted to love going to work everyday. I have worked with many choral groups along this career path, as well as performing with groups as a saxophone player. Saxophone and conducting have taken me around the world and back! I have been in Washington state for 2 1/2 years.

Q: What led you to your position with Kulshan Chorus?

A: My arrival at Kulshan Chorus began as fortunate happenstance, as I was on the American Choral Directors Association website searching for some choral music for a current project. I discovered there was a conductors' page and noticed the word "Bellingham" on one of the posts.

From one correspondence to the next, I progressed to the audition and interview processes and was asked to come aboard. My wife and I had been considering starting a civic choir in Snohomish County only a few days before finding the post for Kulshan's new artistic director position.

Q: What will people hear at Saturday's concert?

A: Oh, man! What won't they hear! I promise this concert will be unlike any choral concert you've ever been to.

When deciding upon the theme for this concert, I wanted to resist the temptation of making this concert about me and my favorite choral pieces. Instead, I wanted to celebrate this new chapter in the chorus' life.

We will not only celebrate and party with peace, but we will also have a look back at times where peace, love and joy were nowhere to be found.

Chorus members, 80 of my new best friends, range from professional singers to "I sing in the shower. ... Does that count?"

I believe our youngest in the choir is 22 and our oldest is ... wise.

It wouldn't be right to have this new chapter start off without the accompaniment of the oh-so-amazing Bellingham R&B band, The Atlantics. Paul Klein, who fronts the band, is a new friend and a great man.

Another amazing relationship that has grown stronger from this new chapter is that between the chorus and our Lummi Nation friends. I have been honored to meet and work with Lawrence Solomon, who grew up at Lummi Nation and is a cultural arts teacher at Lummi Nation School.

I am truly looking forward to his contribution to one of our huge pieces for the concert. (No spoilers, sorry! but lots of percussion, lots of groove and lots of voices being raised to poetry and peace).

Q: What else is enjoyable for you besides music?

A: Gardening. Some say I disappear when the sun is shining.

If I'm not in my yard working, I am somewhere on Puget Sound, fishing. Or I am traveling with a tent or a suitcase.

But you might find me at a random restaurant in the Seattle area this summer, tootin' my horn.


What: Kulshan Chorus presents "Songs of Poetry and Peace."

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 17.

Where: Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave.

Tickets: $16 general, $13 seniors and students, $7 youths, at Village Books, Community Food Co-op and at Western Washington University's box office, 360-650-6146, tickets.wwu.edu.

Details: 360-650-6746, kulshanchorus.org.