With a classroom full of eager learners, Ki Park came in prepared for her first day of teaching.
However, Park, 44, wasn’t working with a children’s choir anymore. Monday morning was Park’s first rehearsal as director of the Verdugo Hills Women’s Chorus.
The first of the group’s weekly rehearsals began Monday, with Park comfortably adjusting to her new role.
Park has worked with classical singers, instrumentalists and choruses throughout the Los Angeles community, including a stint as an assistant director for a children's choir, but she’s a neophyte full-fledged director. She said her goal is to help each member see their potential, musically.
“It’s not about who leads and who follows,” Park said. “My ultimate goal is to make each one of them a leader. What I’m focused on doing is guiding them, and get the best out of them.”
For the first time in 20 years, the chorus will not be led by Sharon Schlarb, who stepped down and handed the reins to Park, one of three finalists for the position.
“She's wonderful, so it will definitely be a great shot in the arm for us,” Schlarb said.
Debbie Tinkham was one of eight new singers at the rehearsal on Monday. Tinkham said she came out because she missed the fun and fellowship she enjoyed with past choruses.
“I used to sing in church choirs, but being with a group like this and making friends brought me out,” Tinkham said.
Tinkham, an alto, was also excited about working with Park.
“It makes you feel you’re going to come in fresh,” she said.
Park is the third director in the chorus’ 60-year history. The Cal State Northridge graduate beamed when talking about seeing the chorus perform before accepting the director’s role.
“Their spirit was very uplifting, live and very passionate,” Park said.
Arlene Massimino, a 10-year chorus member, recalled how she joined the group after casually singing during a church service.
“I sang in junior high school and high school and then I stopped. Fifty years went by, and somebody heard me singing in church and said, ‘You ought to join my chorus.’” Massimino said.
She said when chorus members lift their voices, it raises the spirits of the audience.
“When you sing to them, you can see someone in the back going like this,” Massimino said as she began waving her hands as if conducting an imaginary orchestra. “Or they’re acting like they’re playing a piano like way back when.”
Bringing pleasure to hundreds with her voice keeps Massimino coming back.
“It sparks a memory in them, and it sparks a good feeling with me,” she said.
For most, the beginning of rehearsals felt like old classmates reuniting after a summer break. Not to be exclusive, veteran chorus members hugged Jeanne Gronfeldt after she signed in for the first time.
“It’s a beautiful opportunity,” Gronfeldt said.
Gronfeldt found her seat with the sopranos and began reading the packet of music, eager to begin a new journey with new friends.
The Verdugo Hills Women’s Chorus performs at retirement homes across the area, and competes at the annual California Women’s Chorus concert. The group also accepts donations that help fund the state organization’s scholarships.