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Photo courtesy of Margie Bell

Ron Kean, the Bakersfield College choral music director, is scheduled to perform at the St. Patrick's Day/ World Music Day concert.

A special treat is in store for local folks who attend the St. Patrick's Day concert featuring two Bakersfield College choral groups at First Congregational Church.

Yes, there will be a few Irish songs, including the "Yeats in Love" choral cycle composed by BC choral music director Ron Kean, which was performed two years ago in Ireland.

But the highlight of the Sunday afternoon program is a preview of a complex piece the BC Chamber Singers will perform on March 24 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

It's called "The Choral Colors of Eric Whitacre" and the singers will be conducted by the composer, Eric Whitacre, at a concert devoted to his music.

Kean explained how it all came about.

"It is not a competition; I have never performed in a competition in 30 years of teaching," Kean said. "I believe that the arts are supposed to bring people together, not to have winners and losers."

Nonetheless, he and the singers did have to follow a certain process.

"We submitted an audition tape to Carnegie Hall and were accepted for this event," he said.

But that wasn't the final step.

"We had to make a videotape (two weeks ago) demonstrating that all 40 minutes of this very difficult music was learned and memorized," he said. "It has been a long and rewarding journey for all of us to be part of this great music."

Cost for each of the 30 students making the trip to New York is $1,900.

"The students raised about 90 percent of the cost out of their own pocket," Kean said. "The remainder was raised by selling CDs, by caroling and by soliciting donations from our generous supporters."

Meanwhile, he's focusing on the Sunday concert here in town, which is part of the Fred & Beverly Dukes Memorial series and includes the chamber singers as well as the BC choir, a total of about 85 voices.

As the program's title indicates, the repertoire is devoted to Irish music as well other traditions, such as several African-American songs and selections from Argentina and Colombia.

Kean's appearance at First Congregational is something of a homecoming. For a number of years he served as the church's choir director.

Both he and his wife, Peggy Sears, who teaches vocal music at Cal State Bakersfield, are retiring from their teaching positions this year.

Margie Bell, publicist for the Dukes' series recently paid tribute to the couple in the church's newsletter.

"Congratulations to Ron for his many years of brilliant work with the Bakersfield College Fine Arts Department and with the many choirs he has led over the years," Bell said. "He and his wife, Peggy Sears, have enriched us with their work in this community and blessed us personally with their service to this church."

The couple plans to remain in Bakersfield and to stay active in the world of music but in slightly different ways. Kean has been asked to conduct an honor choir in Honolulu and to judge the Community College Choral Music Festival at USC in 2014.