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Artist Profile: New conductor of Bellingham Community Chorus has seen the world

Spokane native Timothy M. Black, 48, has traveled the world playing music. In February, he returned to his home state as conductor of the non-audition Bellingham Community Chorus.

He directs the chorus for the first time Sunday, May 3, at Hillcrest Chapel. The free concert features three American genres: jazz, spirituals, and the music of Appalachia.

Here’s a little about his life’s journeys so far.

Question: What’s your musical background?

Answer: I studied music education at Whitworth College in Spokane. Beginning in 1989, I sang and played trumpet in the United States Air Force Band during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. That was the experience that instilled in me a love for community performance and outreach.

I was certified to teach in Washington state in 1993, received my master’s degree in choral conducting with conductor Eph Ehly in Kansas City in 1999, and recorded with the now Grammy-winning Kansas City Chorale under the direction of Charles Bruffy. That was the best choir with whom I’ve had the opportunity to sing.

Currently, I am awaiting my doctoral dissertation defense at Boston University in music education, and expect completion later this spring. That degree has been a long time in coming. I can’t wait to get back into the classroom this fall.

Q: What brought you to Bellingham ?

A: My wife, Amy, and I agreed last spring that the time was right for our return to the Pacific Northwest after having lived and taught overseas in Okinawa, Japan, for the last 12 years. She is a great choral musician in her own right and has established a thriving piano studio over the last seven months.

Our sons, Josh and Ben, are local musicians here in Bellingham. Josh is a great jazz trumpeter; Ben has a composition degree from Western Washington University; and our youngest, Mikayla, is a singer and French horn player. It’s such a blessing to have all our children living here within minutes of our home.

A strong pull contributing to our return to the area was our little granddaughters, Anzoleta and Alexandria, who keep us on our toes. They are bundles of artistic energy in their own right.

Q: Where have you lived?

A: Our teaching experience overseas and having our kids grow up in Asia was really life-changing for our family. I had conducted American choral music workshops in Germany previously, and that clearly infected our family with an insatiable travel bug.

But living in Japan afforded me opportunities to conduct at choral music festivals in Korea, Guam, and mainland Japan as well. Those conducting experiences opened the door for workshops in Bologna, Italy, and gave Amy and me the chance to teach music technology in South Africa in July 2009.

Our family believes God likes to hit a moving target. That, coupled with a passion for music and not being averse to risk, has blessed us with those experiences. We’re always ready for a new adventure. Right now, Bellingham is that place.

Q: How did the directorship of the Community Chorus come about?

A: I was approached in February rather out of the blue by the choir’s board of directors to lead the choir for this spring concert season. First and foremost, I must credit Carolyn Mullen, longtime conductor of the Bellingham Community Chorus who, over the previous 20 years, did so much for area community musicians and truly set me up for success. Her approach and commitment to lifelong singing and the choir’s mantra of “We Sing for Fun” really resonated with me as well.

Opportunities abound for amazing choral music throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties in its school, church and community musical offerings. Many of those ensembles gather their membership through auditions, manifesting in impressive and elite groups.

But as we move into our 25th season in the fall, we stand by our mission of providing a non-auditioned approach to our chorus, and encourage amateurs at all levels to sing for the rest of their lives. In this way, we know we are meeting the needs of ordinary citizens who are lifelong singers and need a place where they can thrive, whether they are 18 or in their 80s. Music is truly a gift for a lifetime.

Q: Are you active with other musical groups?

A: I am also thrilled to be singing with the Bellingham Chamber Chorale, under director Ryan Smit, as a tenor and soloist as well. Conductors must seize the opportunity to perform with great ensembles in addition to conducting any time they can. The chamber chorale is a perfect place for me to learn something new from Ryan and our singers every week.

Q: How did you select the works for Sunday’s program?

A: My musical parents, Mike and Peggy, encouraged my brother David and me to embrace everything from Mozart to Motown and Metallica equally, because all music is music. It’s not for me to say what music should be appreciated above all else. I tell my students the same thing my parents told us: You just strive to love it ALL!

That having been said, for the last 25 years especially, I have been committed to and insistent on performing American choral music. Our country’s own contributions to the choral idiom often get overlooked in today’s performance literature. What better repertoire than jazz, spirituals, and Appalachian folk songs for a free springtime concert?

This is the essence of who the Bellingham Community Chorus is. We delight in choosing something for everyone in our concerts. Doing so allows community members to feel like they are a part of the experience. Perhaps that distinguishes us in the community, and is why I am privileged to be their conductor.

We look very much forward to singing for the community on May 3, and invite anyone interested in the chorus to consider singing with us at an event we’re planning in August and throughout our 25th season beginning in the fall.

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