Rhodd Caldwell (left) is the new artistic director of the Central Coast Chorale, and Cameron Garner (right) is the group’s new assistant director.

After a lengthy, pandemic-induced hiatus, the Central Coast Chorale is ready to get back to singing. It’s been nearly two years since the 25-year-old community choir performed their last concert, but the group is on track to resume rehearsals starting in January 2022.

The board of directors has spent the last several months in a search for a new artistic director for the group. Rhodd Caldwell has been selected to serve in that role, and Cameron Garner will take on the position of assistant director.

“We’re very excited to have such experienced and talented people taking on artistic leadership,” board member Terrell Aldredge said. “Rhodd is well-known for his energy and enthusiasm as a singer, actor and producer, but we were also very impressed with his years of working as a choral conductor. And we believe Cameron’s vocal experience and younger perspective will be great assets to the chorale.”

I recently sat down with both of the new directors to get to know them a little better and hear some of their plans for the Central Coast Chorale’s future.

I asked what got them started in music in the first place. Rhodd actually grew up in a non-musical household but had always enjoyed singing. “However, when I went to college I discovered I had a huge singing voice and potential for a career in musical theater and opera. No one was more surprised than me!” He began performing extensively onstage and began what became a 40-year career as a church musician, both soloist and music director.

In contrast, Cameron’s family is quite musical. “My parents met performing in a show, and it was their love of music that got me involved in the Salem Boys Choir at a very young age,” he said. Since then, he has sung in groups around the Pacific Northwest and Utah.

As we discussed their plans for the future of the choir, several points stood out. Rhodd is very interested in growing the group both in numbers and diversity. “I want to reach out to and include singers from the diverse communities of the central coast including Latino, Native American, African American and LGBTQ, and truly make the chorale more representative of our overall region,” he said. “I want to explore new concert repertoire that will celebrate the heritage and contributions of all of those groups to our cultural life.”

Cameron is excited about the chorale partnering with and supporting the Lincoln County School District with its choral music programs and encouraging a new generation of singers. Both talked about the importance of continuing established relationships with local music organizations like the Newport Symphony and adding new arts connections to chorale concerts, including dance and the visual arts. “Vocal development for our singers is also a goal for both Cameron and me,” said Rhodd, “and we want to encourage excellence in performance by providing opportunities for chorale members to improve and polish their musical skills.”

I asked what they felt were the biggest assets of the Central Coast Chorale as it is now, and the biggest challenges that lie ahead. Rhodd immediately pointed to the accrued experience of the singers in the group as a huge asset, not just in terms of music, but in connections to the community. “Members of the chorale are an extended family who have worked and sung together for years and are a well-established ensemble in our region. That kind of bonding is absolutely apparent in performance, and tangibly comes across to audiences. I know our singers are eager to get back together and start rehearsing and performing again, and I can’t wait to work with them.”

As far as challenges go, the new directors talked about the difficulties of getting the group going after an almost two-year pandemic break. “We both know that getting people involved again, feeling energetic about singing and performing, and overcoming any lingering fears about COVID, will take some work on everyone’s part.”

As a way of getting acquainted with chorale singers, the new directors will be hosting individual “vocal introductions” over the next few weeks at First Presbyterian Church in Newport. “This is simply a way for Cameron and me to meet each singer individually, start to get acquainted, and briefly hear them sing,” Rhodd said. “Singers will sign up for a 15-minute time slot on a particular date and come to the church to meet with us. We’re offering a range of dates on both weeknights and Saturdays to accommodate varying schedules. Masks will obviously be required, and all singers must be vaccinated.”

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