JPL workers hit a high note

Singing in a chorus might not be rocket science, but that hasn’t stopped Jet Propulsion Laboratory workers from forming their own company of singers.

The JPL Chorus will make its debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a free concert with the Pasadena City College Chamber Singers at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

The NASA research facility in La Cañada Flintridge formed its first choral group in February, the idea born out of a discussion between Stephen Kulczycki, JPL’s deputy director of communications and education, and Pasadena Symphony Chief Executive Paul Zdunek.

Kulczycki is now a member of the chorus’ bass section and one of 53 JPL employees from science, engineering, tech support and other departments who have come out for Wednesday practices with Pasadena Symphony Director of Choruses Donald Brinegar.

Kulczycki said the chorus offers an opportunity for some of the 5,000 people in JPL’s “small town” to meet and break their routines.

“There’s a lot of connection between both sides of the brain in an experience like this,” he said. “There are a number of people in there who are scientists and engineers who I think are just expressing a different part of their brain.”

Brinegar, who is also the director of choral studies at Pasadena City College, said working with the JPL Chorus presents the opportunity to use works that incorporate themes that cross the divide between art and science.

“I really focused on texts that would relate to the kind of work that they do, so I chose texts that had to do with the earth and the sky and stars and the sun,” he said.

JPL doesn’t have any dedicated music facilities, and Kulczycki said the choral group has taken a catch-as-catch-can approach to finding practice space. At various times they have set up in JPL’s auditorium, TV studio and conference rooms.

Despite the makeshift practice space and mixed levels of experience in the singers, Brinegar said the chorus is coming along, thanks to the practice hours the group is putting in.

“For folks who got degrees in engineering, aerospace and aeronautics and all that … to have this level of talent, I think people will be surprised by the quality of the chorus,” he said. “They actually have to take time out of their workday and I’m very impressed with their dedication.”

The group will perform during the Pasadena Pops Summer Series and — naturally — at the Music Under the Stars event hosted in September by the Pasadena Symphony, according to Brinegar.

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