David Kirkendall: A VAE Original

If you need to find a collection of Vocal Arts Ensemble trivia, look no further than David Kirkendall, pictured here with his wife Charlotte in Alaska in 2014. David has been involved with the VAE since the beginning and is a treasure trove of factoids about the Ensemble. For example:

Q: How much was the start up budget for VAE?
A: $50. This money was given by Elmer Thomas to purchase envelopes and stamps to mail audition notices to potential members. The transaction took place in Springdale at a swimming pool outside founding member Jeannie Geraci’s condo.

Q: VAE was founded in 1978. When was their first performance?
A: March 1979. Rehearsals began in 1978, and most people assume that the first performance happened in the fall of that year. However, Elmer didn’t feel that the singers were ready for the planned December concert, and he didn’t want the Ensemble to debut on a less than stellar note. So, the Ensemble’s first performance waited until March 1979.

Q: Where was the VAE’s first performance?
A: The Emery Theatre, located at 100 E Central Parkway in Cincinnati. Most people aren’t aware, but a beautiful but dilapidated 2,000 seat auditorium is hidden away in this unassuming Over-the-Rhine building. The Emery Theatre was built in 1911 and designed by preeminent auditorium architects of the time, Adler and Sullivan, who also designed Chicago’s Auditorium Theater and Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall.

While all of this information is interesting, what David brings and has brought to the choral community in Cincinnati is absolutely astounding. Today, David serves as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist for the Vocal Arts Ensemble and May Festival Youth Chorus (where he also serves as the assistant conductor), but he has been involved with many different groups across the city over the course of his career.

David’s mother sang with the May Festival Chorus for many years, so he was already familiar with the organization and Elmer Thomas. He auditioned for and joined the May Festival Chorus a senior in high school – rather unusual at the time, but the May Festival Youth Chorus had not yet been formed. Before long, Elmer noticed David’s ability to play piano and by the time he was a sophomore at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), he was the accompanist for the CCM Chamber Choir. Soon after that the Vocal Arts Ensemble was formed.

David divides his tenure as the primary accompanist with the VAE into two distinct sections: Pre-Family (1978-1989) and Empty Nesting (2018-Present). In the early 1980s, he met a beautiful young woman named Charlotte while they were both studying at CCM, and the two were married in 1985 and eventually settled down in Blue Ash to raise their two boys.

For 33 years, David taught choir at Princeton High School, and enjoyed all the benefits of watching young musicians grow and flourish. One of his former students, Casey Cook, now serves as the operations coordinator for Chorus America, among other prestigious assignments. Along with the sublime, David was also able to “enjoy” some of the surprises of live theatre on a tight budget.

At the holiday concert one year, the production team was called to provide onstage “snow.” While this effect is fairly common in productions, renting professional equipment can become expensive, especially for high school choirs. So, David decided to rig a snow machine with a few hardware store purchases for the performance. Everything went well at rehearsal, but there was a buildup of “snow” in the machinery and during the performance all of it came down at once. The effect was certainly memorable!

David’s wife Charlotte, a musician herself, served as director of the choir at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Montgomery Road for over twenty years. During that time, David sang in the bass section of that choir, and as husband of the director, became the ipso facto production assistant for the choir.

Both of the Kirkendall’s sons, Matthew and Bradley, inherited their parents’ talents and followed them into the music industry. Matthew remains in the Queen City, teaching strings in the Fairfield schools; Bradley is a freelance composer in San Francisco. Both of these young men are engaged to be married, though the pandemic has been challenging the plans for their wedding ceremonies and celebrations.

The Vocal Arts Ensemble is honored to have had David Kirkendall on our team since the very first days of our chorus. Get to know him even better by listening to his playlist on the VAE’s Spotify Channel.