The Keys Chorale has gone through a major organizational change this year. It has gone from an independent chorale using the college, to being a part of the college, its “Mixed Community Chorus” offering for-credit units to its regular students as well as continuing education to retirees like me. It also changed its leadership.
While change and leadership succession is a way of life for all organizations, rarely does it happen so quickly, and with results so vividly on display for all to see. At its “Holiday Harmonies” concert on the patio at FKCC next Friday, December 5 at 7 PM, everyone can come and judge for themselves how we’ve done.
While I am a member, I am not writing this in any official capacity for either the former or present chorale board. My perspective is that of a professor of, among other things, organizational change, and as a legacy donor with my wife, deciding whether to leave the Chorale a big chunk of change.
While many of the organizations I am close to such as the Garden and Woman’s Clubs effortlessly change their leadership while continuing to grow, others such as the Tropic Cinema and Studios of Key West had difficult breaks with their directors, and had to negotiate a more trying path to stability.
Like those two, the Chorale has certainly landed on its feet. Suffering the loss of its long-standing and eminent director, we had to decide whether to try to remain independent, or trust the college to take over. The process was a model of effective change processes, and it has succeeded beyond my fondest hopes. We surveyed our stakeholders, emailed our opinions, and met in force to discuss and vote. And we acted fast.
The major hurdle I saw was getting another talented director for the tiny salaries Florida community colleges pay their adjunct faculty. One person I know who could have excelled in the position simply could not afford to put in the hours at that salary, and, as our “teacher,” it would have been inappropriate for him to accept mine or anyone else in the chorale’s augmenting his salary with contributions of our own.
But our former pianist Jim Cutty applied and accepted the job. He has been a remarkable success. With more advanced academic credentials and apparent seasoning at the extraordinarily complex task of hearing four parts sung at once by dozens of singers through two dozen songs, he is our amiable but commanding maestro, to the manor born.
Under Jim’s leadership, we’ve doubled our membership. And size matters for a Chorale. I heard with new ears the professional choir at The Old Stone Church recently. They are well-practiced and note-perfect, but the sound of our 60 compared to their 16 is no contest. The richness, the overtones, the relaxed dynamic of the larger group is lush in the ears. Plus, most of the members of this choir grace our own chorus. As a guy, I especially envy their sub-group, the “Southernmost Five,” a barbershop quintet. They will sing a couple of close-harmony crowd-pleasers that may be best in show.
You’ll get to hear our new ace pianist, Will Johnson debut, and we’ll all enjoy the best instrumentalists in town for the first time, as they don’t practice with us. What you miss as our audience are the weekly classes. I attend as much to listen to so many great voices harmonizing around me in a lush sea of sound as to sing myself. While it is nice to have the public concert to point towards, to give us closure, I would sing even if we only performed in class.
I’ve just spoken with Dr. Frank Wood, the development director at FKCC. He has assured me a legacy donation to the college through a slightly different mechanism will benefit the Chorale after I’m gone, in ways I find gratifying to contemplate while I’m still here. I have made my judgment of the new Keys Chorale, aka our Mixed Community Chorus, and I hope other CFFK legacy donors might do the same.
You have a one-time-only opportunity to hear us for free, a gift of the college in honor of our 25th anniversary. Come hear our “Holiday Harmonies” concert next Friday, and judge us for yourself.