Kaua‘i Voices: Singing For The Love Of It

Since its inception in 2011 with artistic director Randy Leonard, Kaua‘i Voices has become an independent nonprofit and has doubled its number of singers

Singing brings joy to Randy Leonard. That’s why the oncology nurse dedicates so much of his time serving as artistic director of Kaua’i Voices.

“It’s very human,” he says. “Vocal music is incredible because the music speaks so much more beyond what words can reach. To combine the music and words, the human voice and the emotion and spirit can be incredible if it’s tapped into correctly.”

Leonard delights in taking the voices of a diverse mix of people from across the island with different backgrounds and abilities, and pulling them together to produce one harmonious sound.

“We can create such chicken-skin. We’re not just performing notes right; you can actually feel the emotion of the piece,” he says.

Leonard has been emotionally connecting to music since he was a child. He started playing the piano at 6, and by the age of 20 he had his first paid artistic director position. He also obtained a degree in music education with a vocal choral concentration from Keene State College in New Hampshire, and ever since then has been directing musical ensembles professionally.

When Leonard moved to the island four years ago after taking his nursing position at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, word spread about his artistic abilities and he was asked to be part of a new choral group that was starting in conjunction with Kaua’i Community College. By 2011, Kaua’i Voices officially formed and he became the director.

Leonard recalls their first performance, which opened with the Ali’i Strings quartet at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihue.

“It was a great evening and it was very exciting,” he says.

Since then, Kaua’i Voices has become an independent nonprofit and has grown from 20 singers to 40. The choral group consists of all ages, from age 17 to mid-80s. Some are able to read music with ease, while others are extremely accomplished vocalists.

“We have a wide variety of different abilities and skills within our group, but they all have the desire to really achieve a high level of choral music,” says Leonard.

Another thing they have in common is that they had to audition for the group – and competition is stiff, as Leonard looks at past experience, vocal quality and each candidate’s knowledge of music.

“We want to nurture choral music,” says the Vermont native.

And since choral music is the blending of voices that make up the harmony, it is a collaborative effort where teamwork is a critical.

“You really have to be right on top of it as you sing,” says Leonard.

In order to perfect the art, Kaua’i Voices meets at least once a week and has performances each January and June. Choosing themes for the shows is one of the most enjoyable aspects for Leonard. One of his favorite examples is a concert where they “traveled” from Kaua’i to the Mainland, Mexico and Europe, singing songs related to each destination. The singers donned vintage travel attire with suitcases, tickets – and there was even a flight attendant, who added extra flair to the show.

The next performance, “Our World in Harmony,” will feature music from around the world, including Jamaica, Korea, Africa and Ireland. This time, the talented singers have the added task of learning the languages for the upcoming performances, slated for Jan. 17 and 18.

“Music is the universal language,” says Leonard. “We can all appreciate music and harmony throughout the world. It helps us to realize that we’re all the same.”

And regardless of the kind of day someone is having, listening to music touches people emotionally and helps them feel better. It is the main reason Leonard appreciates what he does not only for audiences, but for the singers as well.

“No matter what tragedies and chaos goes on in their lives, they come in here and it’s like an oasis for them,” he says. “All of that goes away and they just have the joy of music.”

Visit facebook.com/groups/287635681321160 for more information.