Community Chorus was formed for Bulldogs who wanted to keep singing

Jeffrey Rickard is front and center with the Redlands Community Chorus, which will perform in Redlands, Yucaipa and Sierra Madre next weekend.

To know the history of Redlands Community Chorus is to understand why it’s such a living asset to the community.

Started in the 1970s by Jeffrey Rickard, University of Redlands professor of music and director of choral activities, the choir began in response to a need voiced by a number of alumni who had been choir participants of the Feast of Lights.

Rickard directed the Feast for 38 years before retiring in 2008. A number of graduates had settled in the greater Inland Empire, and still desired to participate in the Feast, so Rickard approached the university with the idea of starting a choir of alumni who would participate in the second-half of the Feast of Lights program.

“Basically, in the second half of the Feast of Lights we went from a choir of about 80 students to almost 120-140 people,” Rickard said. “It turned out to be very popular. Because of the involvement of the community, I thought, ‘This is a need we are supplying for people particularly at Christmas.’ I discovered Christmas is a very sentimental time and as long as you provide something familiar in a presentation you can do just about anything you want. That’s when I got word out to people and all of a sudden we had a chorus of graduates.”

“Eventually the choir asked, ‘Why can’t’ we sing the whole Feast?’ And I said, “Let me work this through the university and see.’ At the time the university was very much into town and gown: They wanted community participation. And I thought, what better way to accomplish this than through the Feast of Lights, because if we have alumni singing as well, then they will want to bring their friends and that should serve to increase the overall attendance. It’s like church, if your kids sing, you’re there whether you go to that church or not. So the Feast of Lights was the same thing.”

When Rickard retired in 2008, he continued with the Redlands Community Chorus and started another choir called Ensemble XXI, a select group of 25 to 30 singers who join with the Redlands Community Chorus for its Christmas concerts.

“The only other thing we were looking for was to be able to perform in several places rather than just the one,” Rickard said.

The Redlands Community Chorus now conducts Christmas programs at three venues annually: First Congregational Church of Redlands, Faith Lutheran Church of Yucaipa and Saint Rita’s Roman Catholic Church in Sierra Madre. All three venues offer beautiful holiday décor and great acoustics.

“My philosophy is that you shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to see such a performance,” he said. “It should be free. Come.”

Rickard’s choruses are supported by donations.

“It works. We manage to break even. We don’t get paid. In fact, choir members pay $100 per year to participate. That covers the cost of our music. The offerings we collect pay for the orchestra, which is our biggest expense. We have to hire that from outside. Donations also pay for the buses that take us to Sierra Madre. And some people give us donations throughout the year to make sure we’re solvent.”

Redlands Community Chorus schedule

First Congregational Church: 8 p.m., Friday Dec. 13, 2 W. Olive St. Redlands.

Faith Lutheran Church: 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14, 12449 California St, Yucaipa.

St. Rita’s Catholic Church: 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15, at 318 N Baldwin Ave, Sierra Madre.