Photo by  Jessica Keller: Joseph To, Magnolia Chorale’s new director, sits behind his piano in his Capitol Hill apartment. The Magnolia Chorale’s Board of Directors is introducing To to the community ahead of the fall season with an outdoor event this Sunday.
Photo by Jessica Keller: Joseph To, Magnolia Chorale’s new director, sits behind his piano in his Capitol Hill apartment. The Magnolia Chorale’s Board of Directors is introducing To to the community ahead of the fall season with an outdoor event this Sunday.

For Joseph To, being a choir director means more than just hone singers’ voices and perform beautiful music; it is an opportunity to build community through a love of music.

To has loved music his entire life. He currently teaches choir and piano at a Tukwila school and directs the Norwegian Ladies Chorus in Ballard. As of this fall, he will also lead the Magnolia Chorale as its new choir conductor.

To, who grew up in Hong Kong, got his master’s degree in 2020 in choral conducting and Chinese choral music and maintains an interest in presenting ethno-musicality in the classroom, specifically world music with a focus on teaching non-Chinese speakers how to sing in that language.

He learned about the opening in Magnolia through a choral director’s association and wanted to pursue the opportunity because he enjoys community choir and finds the experience meaningful.

“I’ve always found that community choir is very special,” To said. “People getting into these choirs, they really want to be there. They really want to learn.”

To said he is excited to be the new director of an organization with over 30 years of history in the community with many great directors in the past. He replaces Jean-Marie Kent, who left as the chorale director after last season to pursue another choral opportunity in Seattle.

He said he especially appreciates he is working for a board of directors who support his ideas and encourage him to try new things and bring new excitement to the choir.

“The best thing about working with community choir is working with dedicated singers and building community beyond the choir itself,” To said.

To said one of his top priorities as Magnolia’s new director is to “bring in diversity” by diversifying the concert programs and music selections, as well as creating an environment safe, welcoming and enjoyable to anyone.

“When we’re making music, it’s not just about the product – the concert. We’re also creating community in the choir and in the community as a whole,” he said.

To, whose first day was officially July 1, has spent the summer preparing and finding music for the upcoming choral season, which begins Sept. 11.

He said he wants to introduce the choir to new music from new voices: people of color, women, regional composers and possibly from a student.

To said he wants the choral arrangements to appeal to everyone, as well: the music selections will showcase all voices and ranges.

“I try to find music where everyone can have a melody,” he said. 

While the choir dropped to about 30 members during the pandemic, it has around 100 active and nonactive members total, To said, and he would like to see those numbers grow.

“If we can get those numbers back to where they were, that would be great,” he said. “It has been a crazy time for the performing arts, and hopefully we’ll provide a place where people feel safe and welcome and supported.”

People have an opportunity to meet To and honor Kent at an outdoor open house from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Magnolia United Church of Christ, 3555 W. McGraw St.

The fall season of the Magnolia Chorale begins Sept. 11. New members are welcome. For more information, go to magnoliachorale.org.