Bakersfield College choral director Ron Kean hopes his final concert will be a true testament to his work and beliefs as a composer, conductor and educator.
The Bakersfield College Choir and Chamber Singers, augmented by alumni and community members, will perform two works -- Mozart's Requiem, and Kean's own "American Mass" -- a blending of Western European high art, ancient music and folk cultures that is a perfect synthesis of what turned out to be Kean's career.
"A masterwork and a work that is accessible and includes the works of other cultures," Kean said.
"I started late -- I didn't learn to read music until I was 20 years old," Kean said. "Then I started out playing the guitar and singing my own songs."
Prepared as he thought he was to spend his choral conducting career teaching students the standard Western European choral repertoire, Kean said he was caught up short when he arrived at Porterville College 26 years ago.
"Nothing had prepared me for the majority of my students coming from non-Western traditions," Kean said. "I started scanning the horizons right away for people to help me with music and the right way to perform it to honor the cultures in front of me."
That search led Kean to studying such diverse topics as West African drum music with Samuel Kwaku Daddy, Latin percussion with Marcos Reyes, African American spirituals with Moses Hogan and many other experts.
Kean didn't know it, but while he was developing his teaching method, he was becoming a pioneer of multicultural choral music studies and the techniques to teach it, work he continued when he arrived at Bakersfield College in 1994.
Kean replaced much of the standard choral repertoire with music from many traditions and even his own compositions. He identified or started multicultural choral festivals and concert tours for his students to participate in, eventually became nationally recognized as an expert in the field, even chairing the American Choral Directors' Association committee on Ethnic and Multicultural Perspectives. He also served as the ACDA's Western Division president.
"My credo has been that artistic rehearsal and performance of great music from anywhere on the planet helps lead us all to a place of transcendence and intercultural understanding," Kean said. "It's a way to bring people together through music."
Despite the adjustments he has had to make, Kean was able to expose his students to many choral masterworks and even opera, especially when working together with his wife, Peggy Sears, who is retiring from CSUB after 22 years.
"I conducted five operas (with Peggy)," Kean said. "(The CSUB production of Britten's) 'Albert Herring' was really a watershed for me."
Kean said the recent change of the chamber choir schedule to a night class made it possible for alumni and other experienced singers to join. The jump in the skill level made it possible for Kean to program works he had had to shelve -- works by Bach, Britten, Schubert, Faure, Mozart, Whitacre and others.
"I was able to even do some of this for me," Kean said.
Kean is going full tilt for this final concert, adding a festival orchestra of 25 instrumentalists, and recruiting all of the soloists from his choirs -- no outside ringers. But while he is going out with a flourish, he is not ending his musical career.
"I have three wonderful gigs," Kean said.
Those "gigs" include a summer stint as a world music clinician for the annual ACDA choral workshop; choosing repertoire and conducting the high school festival choir at the Ho'olokahi Choral Festival in Honolulu in January, and serving as a clinician for the Community College Choral Festival at USC next March.
"I'm really honored to be in that position," said Kean, who also discussed a part-time job with one of his favorite wineries in Paso Robles and plans to keep composing.
"I learned during grad school days that I wasn't defined by my work," Kean said. "I strived since then to be a complete person, so that now I'm looking at retiring I can still have a good life without doing my life's work full time."
Kean said he felt honored by Bakersfield College's decision to replace him, keeping the choral program alive.
"To me, that's the biggest tribute -- that my program will continue," Kean said.
"I've told my students that if you want to honor me, keep singing."