Some people who join Kauai Chorale can’t read music. They might not be able to sing all that well, either. Perhaps this is their first time being part of a community vocal group.
Yet, when it comes concert time, you know one thing: It’s going to be a great show featuring song, a little dance and some comedy, too.
“It always comes together,” said Virginia Shepherd, a longtime accompanist of the Kauai Chorale. “She pulls everybody together.”
“She” is Lois Ricciardi, who has been directing Kauai Chorale for 28 years. She is, by many, considered the face of this popular singing group that’s known for its quality, creativity and joyful sounds.
“She’s Kauai Chorale,” Shepherd said. “She puts everything together.”
But not for too much longer.
Ricciardi is stepping down — not retiring — to spend more time with her family and to travel.
“I’m just passing the baton for this one part of my life,” she said.
It has been an honor and privilege to lead such a dedicated organization, Ricciardi said. While the small compensation she receives comes out to a few cents an hour, she has cherished the opportunities to be with people, friends, who simply want to sing with others.
“The music we have accomplished, 28 years ago I wouldn’t have known we were going to do all that,” she said.
Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, there are stressful times.
But no, she has never looked back and questioned all those hours of planning and practicing and performing and wondered if it was worth it.
“You love it or I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.
The Chorale’s final performances under Ricciardi were going to be Dec. 10 at the St. Regis Grand Ballroom and Dec. 15 at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. This was to be her swan song, with renditions of Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” Rutter’s “Gloria,” choruses from the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah,” Z. Randall Stroope’s “Hodie,” and other traditional Christmas songs.
But another opportunity arose that Ricciardi and the Chorale just couldn’t refuse.
The group was invited to perform “Carmina Burana” at the Lincoln Center in New York on May 28. This, Ricciardi said, is an exciting and outstanding accomplishment. About 30 of the 70-member Chorale are expected to go.
“It’s a wonderful conclusion to the 28 years,” she said. “It’s a pretty exciting and a wonderful way to end this many years of working with a wonderful group of people.”
Which is exactly what Ricciardi has enjoyed all these years of leading a non-auditioned chorus, which means it is open to anyone.
“I love working with people of various levels of accomplishments,” she said. “So many come and cannot read music, but with a little bit of encouragement they accomplish a wonderful concert season.”
She has received letters from some, stating their appreciation of her kind words and ways to bring out the best in each person. Some told her they never thought they could be in a chorale and enjoy it so much.
It’s not magic, Ricciardi said. It’s encouragement and hard work and commitment.
“They need to be there and put in the effort. If they put in the effort, I’ll make it work,” she said.
Wes Cronk, Kauai Chorale president, said Ricciardi guides them in singing “the best music.” The songs she selects are hard to learn and difficult to sing, but they do it. And they do it so well because of their director, he said.
“Her heart is in the choir,” Cronk said. “You can see where her heart is.”
The chance to perform at the Lincoln Center, he said, will be a great send-off.
“What a piece of appreciation for somebody who. out of the blue. heard us and wanted to be part of it,” she said.
Ricciardi grew up in a home in New York where she was surrounded by music.
Her parents, Bob and Sarah, encouraged her to sing and play.
“We had a lot of instruments in the house,” she said. “We did a lot of singing and playing. It’s always been part of my life.”
She sang in the church choir and started playing the piano at age 7. Classically trained, Ricciardi can play a little bit of a lot of instruments— violin, saxophone, trumpet.
Today, Ricciardi is a full-time piano teacher and part-time music director and organist at Lihue United Church, which she plans to continue doing.
Ricciardi is always hearing music in her head, sometimes to the point of distraction.
“I think music says things that words can’t say,” she said.
She loves playing the piano and sharing that passion with her students.
“It’s from the soul,” she said. “It speaking without words. It’s emotion.”
She and her husband Peter have been married 51 years and have called Kauai home for 43 of those. She notes that Peter means “rock,” and he is one.
“I could not do this without his support,” she said. “When I get into my anxiety and stress, he hears it all. He just really is my rock and supports me through it. I could never do what I do without him.”
To relax, she listens to music and golfs once a week. She is serious about her time on the greens, too.
“That is like sacred time for me,” she said.
Ricciardi will miss leading Kauai Chorale and preparing for the spring and holiday concerts.
She’ll miss the people, and miss seeing how songs that don’t sound so good initially turn out to be beautiful come concert day.
The last show she directs will be special, she admits.
“When I conduct the last few notes, I have a feeling there will be tears in my eyes,” she said.
But no regrets. Only good memories.
“As somebody told me once, if you have to ask if music is for you, it’s not,” she said.
Lois Ricciardi never had to ask.