Cue The Music

Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra celebrates 25 years

By Jessica Laskey
June 2021

Running an arts organization is difficult in the best of times. It’s all the more trying during a global pandemic.

But Donald Kendrick is unfazed. As the founder and music director of the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra, he’s helped the organization survive and thrive for the past 25 years—and he’s not stopping anytime soon.

“We founded this organization to provide world-class choral orchestral music for the greater Sacramento community,” Kendrick says. “We take our job very seriously—to inspire people, lift them up, touch them in ways that nothing else can. It’s a huge responsibility and we don’t take that for granted.”

SCSO is notable for producing more than 150 classical choral orchestral concerts in its first 24 seasons and completing more than 10 international tours. It’s also the only chorus in the country that maintains a professional 55-member symphony orchestra. SCSO musicians are contracted members of the American Federation of Musicians labor union, which means they are guaranteed to perform a certain number of concerts per year.

“Lots of people ask how Sacramento manages to have an amateur chorus running a professional symphony orchestra,” Kendrick says. “It does seem kind of like putting the cart before the horse, but we’re able to do it because we control our finances and we have an effective, hard-working board. We haven’t gone into debt in all 25 years. We’re the capital of California, for God’s sake, we have to have a professional symphony orchestra!”

Kendrick has always been passionate about music. He studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Stanford University and the Eastman School of Music in New York, where he earned his doctorate and also served on the faculty.

He landed in Fair Oaks in the mid-1980s to take a teaching job at Sacramento State, from which he retired in 2018 after 33 years. During his tenure there, he served as the director of choral activities, conducted three university choirs and ran the graduate degree program in choral conducting, which he founded in 1986. Over the past four decades, he’s found time to teach at universities and conduct choirs all over North America, co-found the Sacramento Children’s Chorus (and serve as its artistic director) and adjudicate choir festivals across the country.

When he was first teaching at Sac State, Kendrick was appointed part-time chorus master for the original Sacramento Symphony Orchestra. When the symphony went belly-up—not once, but twice—and musicians started to move away, members of the chorus begged Kendrick to keep them together. And so, in 1996, SCSO was born.

“We couldn’t let these wonderful players leave Sacramento,” Kendrick recalls. “I talked it through with my partner Jim (McCormick, now SCSO president and CEO) and we decided to take it step by step and try it for one year. We did pretty well.”

A quarter of a century later, SCSO is still making music despite all odds. When the pandemic hit, the organization pivoted online. The group uploaded behind-the-scenes videos, informational talks and recordings of past performances for free to its YouTube channel. SCSO hosted a virtual version of its annual Singathon fundraiser to keep audiences engaged until the group can return to its newly refurbished home at the SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center on L Street.

“We’re so looking forward to getting out of this pandemic,” says Kendrick, who finds time to serve as the organist and director of music at Sacred Heart Church, where he conducts men’s chorus Vox Nova and choir ensemble Schola Cantorum.
“There’s no such thing as a virtual choir. We’ve all got to be in the same room, breathing the same air, feeling that connection, making something beautiful out of thin air. We’re here to bring beauty to the world.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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