JPL Chorus preparing for winter show

The holidays may be over for most people, but workers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge are planning one last musical hurrah.

The JPL Chorus will perform holiday songs at their second free winter concert at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7 with the Donald Brinegar Singers at Pasadena City College’s Westerbeck Recital Hall.

The chorus, made up of around 50 scientists, engineers, and other JPL workers, formed in 2012. Many of the members have a background in music and two engineers composed and arranged pieces for the concert.

Todd Barber, one of the composers, is a senior propulsion engineer at JPL. He flew the Mars rover Curiosity before it landed on the Red Planet and now works on Cassini, a Saturn spacecraft.

In his spare time, he sings in choral groups. Besides the JPL Chorus, he is a member of two bands and a church choir. He also plays piano.

“It’s a nice little break from work every week,” he said. “No matter how crazy the rocket science stuff gets, we get a break.”

The chorus is a joint initiative with the Pasadena Symphony Assn.

Barber said the JPL Chorus is also a way for the lab’s employees to meet people from other departments and develop new friendships.

And, he said, scientists make decent musicians.

“One thing that impresses me is the musicianship level of the chorus,” he said. “It’s really, really high.”

Christine Witmer, director of education and community engagement for the Pasadena Symphony, said the group has been successful.

“Many of the chorus members have actually studied music in the past so they were really excited to find this outlet to keep up their musical studies,” she said.

For Premkumar Menon, a navigation engineer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, joining the chorus was a “natural progression” from his background in singing Indian songs, he said.

He occasionally performs solos in the chorus.

The group, which meets once a week to rehearse, offers a good diversion from technical work, he said.

Mixing rocket science with the arts seems common at the NASA facility.

“People at JPL have multiple talents,” said Menon. “It kind of goes with the territory.”
What: “Epiphany, a Choral Celebration of Winter”

Where: Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.

Who: The JPL Chorus and the Donald Brinegar Singers

Admission: Free

More info:, (626) 793-7172


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.


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