Kendra Taylor is a musical professional who has been involved in productions across a range of Rogue Valley organizations for years. With leading roles at Camelot Theatre in Talent and a strong academic governance of choirs at both a high school and college level, she has been emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Oregon music community. I caught up with Taylor to talk about her various roles, more recently as the Director of Concert Choir at Southern Oregon University.
JG: What was the creative arc that lead you to your role as the director of concert choir at SOU?
KT: I had great teachers who cared about me.
Steve Thickett, my high school band director at North Medford High School, said to choose one thing you’re good at and go for it. Mike Fitzgerald, NMHS Theatre, taught us all to “take a risk!” and Mark Reppert, NMHS Choir, taught us how to laugh.
Long story short, I did not do well as a college student for the first two years. It was a teacher that got me back on track. I met Ron Bertucci at Lane Community College. I don’t remember what he said to me at that first meeting. I do know that I left his office with purpose. From that moment on, I was driven to perform in as many ensembles as possible. From undeclared and lost, to music major in the span of a few minutes.
I transferred to SOU and met Paul and Jodi French, the two most kind, big-hearted musicians I’ve ever known. They’ve served as teachers and guides for me for the past 10 years. With their help, and the help of Ellie Murray, Liv Genise and my Camelot family, Cindy Hutton and Martin Behnke, and my lovely colleagues in the Medford School District, I was able to find myself as a musician and as a person wanting to create beauty in the world.
I get to teach music at my alma mater, Southern Oregon University, North Medford High School, and Kennedy Elementary because music teachers guided me when I was lost, and to this day, push me to aim higher.
JG: Tell us a little bit about your creative background?
KT: When I think about my creative background, I think of my family. I grew up hearing a story about my great, great, grandmother Iva Blake Eastmen Ellingsworth. I know her as Nana. The story goes like this: She was singing in a church when my great, great, grandfather Ralph Emerson Ellingsworth was walking by with a buddy. Gramp told his friend, “I’m going to marry that woman.” Now here we are, a family with a rich history of music making and music appreciation. I know the correct answer to this question would be to speak about my personal history, but my family’s history is so much more interesting. The quick answer to appease the question, then on to one more family story — I grew up playing piano, cello, flute, piccolo, trombone and later I took voice lessons. I would listen to the Star Trek soundtrack and figure out the melody lines on my keyboard. I still listen to movie soundtracks when I need an extra push to tackle a challenge.
Back to my family. I just found out today that when my uncle was overseas aboard his ship in Vietnam, the only time he could call home on the two way radio was in the middle of the night. My great grandpa Poppi would hold up the phone while my great aunt Pattee would play the piano, and my great grandma Bugga would sing over the phone to my uncle. She sang “O Holy Night.” My great grandmother also sang “The Lord’s Prayer” at my aunt’s wedding. My uncle just passed away. At the service my family played the recording of Bugga, his mother, singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” I had never heard my great grandmother sing. She had a beautiful voice, truly lovely. I am inspired to learn the music she performed so I can honor her and my family’s music history.
JG: What are some of your favorite classical composers and works, and why?
KT: Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.
Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia is a very special piece to me. I sang the soprano solo in college; it was my first real solo. The text is incredible. I love this piece. It is one of my all time favorites to sing and to conduct. We performed it two years ago at North Medford. … We worked all year to learn it. I’m so proud of my students for the care they put into this piece.
I can’t begin to describe in words how important, sad, lovely, triumphant, and glorious Bach’s b minor mass is. As a singer, it challenges you to shape every tiny note into a musical phrase that is elegant. I wrote in my score so much that I had to switch from my standard pencil to a red pencil. Then I spent so much time with the score that it fell apart and I had to duct tape it back together. When you listen to it, you are drawn in. The music perfectly depicts the text.
Other favorites include Mahler’s Eighth, Berg’s Seven Early Songs, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, also Beethoveen’s Egmont Overture (which I would listen to while snowboarding down a hill as fast as I could), and Duruflé’s Requiem.
JG: What can we look forward to from the choir(s) in the future?
KT: More beauty! Lovely music, contemporary composers, collaborations with students.
At SOU, I plan to continue to feature as many soloists as I can. Carly King and SunRose Wilson performed as soloists with the concert choir last week. They are incredibly talented women who have beautiful voices. We have fantastic men I want to feature next. The sopranos and altos will have a feature. Really, this year is about finding music that is beautiful that allows the singers to shine on stage.
Mike Fitzgerald Jersey Retro
I love using the organ whenever possible. Jodi French’s music is so, so lovely. I hope to have us perform one of her pieces this year. There’s no shortage of great music out there. It’s about finding the pieces that the audience will connect with and singers will love to sing.