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Tue05262020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

You never know whom you might meet at a dinner party.

I was surprised when my hosts invited their excellent “caterer” to join the table. I was even more surprised when the affable young man was asked if he would sing to us after dinner. Michael Graham stood by the table and blew the group away with his resonant baritone voice in an a capella rendering of “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

We enthusiastically applauded while he modestly beamed.

Only 29, Graham is a young man who not only loves the culinary arts, but who sings his heart out with the California Desert Chorale; takes award-winning photographs; and offers personal services from organizing events to IT consulting.

“I like helping others whenever I can,” he says.

Born in Victorville and raised in Desert Hot Springs and Palm Desert, Graham now lives in Sky Valley. His motivation comes from advice he got from his mother: “She always told me to win my own race,” he says. “I judge my success in any endeavor by using my own previous success as my goalpost.”

From a young age, Graham—an only child who was home-schooled—found his voice in music.

“I was always interested in music,” he remembers. “I spent a short time in a children’s chorus. Music was in my family; my mom and grandmother were both pianists, and my grandfather, a writer, was always interested in music. I was raised on a diet of Andrew Lloyd Webber, opera, musical theater and German lieder songs. In my teens, I began to explore music from around the world. I had no confidence in my own ability to sing, but I was able to work with my grandmother when I started to learn, and that was so gratifying.”

Graham enrolled at College of the Desert. “I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue, but it was suggested I major in music,” he says.

The music program at COD offers both certificates and degrees to music majors, and includes both private lessons and public-performance opportunities.

“I had to audition, and I was so unsure about my voice,” says Graham. “There were a lot of really talented people. I took Broadway-voice classes along with jazz, and I was lucky enough to work with Mark Almy for one-on-one instruction.”

Almy is an adjunct faculty member at COD with an operatic background. He’s taught at the University of Redlands, Riverside Community College, Cal State San Bernardino and the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and has directed full operas at COD.

Currently, Graham’s passion is his involvement with the California Desert Chorale, with 60 voices of men and women between the ages of 29 and 85. The group was founded in 1986. The chorale’s artistic director, Tim Bruneau, was trained by the likes of Marilyn Horne and Beverly Sills, and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with organizations that include the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Los Angeles Master Chorale.

“I entered the program at COD in 2009, and by spring 2010, I was invited by Tim Bruneau to try out for the chorale,” Graham says. “I was one of four interns he selected from students at COD.”

For Graham, the chorale offers a range of music that fits his background: “There is an equal mix of pop and classical music. I loved doing their program last Christmas. It had something for everyone.”

What’s ahead for young Michael Graham? “I’d love to travel and see the world. I want to know what’s out there. Music and cooking right now are more of a hobby. … I do like staying here in the Coachella Valley. I appreciate the beauty of the desert; the whole landscape is so rich once you stop to appreciate it, so I have considered my photography as a profession.”

As a man not yet 30, does Michael Graham have any advice for other young people?

“I owe so much to the great teachers at COD and to the California Desert Chorale,” he says. “I’ve been able to work with many superb people and musicians, because I learned from my family not to be limited by fear.

“It’s easy to rule something out before you’ve even tried it, saying to yourself, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve found those fears are not usually valid. Try not to worry about it—just go for it!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

May means the big festivals are behind us, and traffic is starting to ease. Unfortunately, May also usually means a drop in entertainment offerings at our local venues. This month is indeed a little slow, although there are still some great events going down.

The McCallum Theatre will host a few shows before signing off until the fall. At 3 p.m., Sunday, May 8, An Afternoon at the Popera is a presentation by the Coachella Valley Symphony and the California Desert Chorale featuring selections by artists from Bublé to Bizet. Sounds like a great local event! Tickets are $27 to $67. At 4 p.m., Sunday, May 15, the McCallum will close out the season with a performance by the All Coachella Valley High School Honor Band. You’ll get to hear a selection of music picked by guest conductor H. Robert Reynolds, of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, performed by 70 talented high school students from throughout the Coachella Valley. Tickets are $12. See you in the fall, McCallum! McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has several of events worth mentioning. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 14, the man with hoes in different area codes, Ludacris, will be stopping by. While he may have three Grammy Awards, Ludacris has managed to piss off a lot of people on his way to the top, thanks to his explicit content. He also earned the scorn of Bill O’Reilly! Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 28, Mexican pop-rock group Camila will take the stage. Mexico has a lot of great rock bands, and Camila is one of Latin music’s biggest success stories, with more than 2 million records sold. What do Camila and Ludacris have in common? They both have three Grammy Awards! Tickets are $39 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The good news: Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a great schedule for May. The bad news: Two of the best shows, featuring comedian Gabriel Iglesias and Jackson Browne, are sold out. However, as of our press deadline, there were will tickets left for Lynyrd Skynyrd (upper right); the Southern rock legends are performing at 9 p.m., Friday, May 20. That’s right: Get ready to scream “Free Bird!” all you want, and be sure to hold your Bic lighter in the air when the band plays it … at the end of the show, of course. Tickets are $86 to $126. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 is hosting two big names in May. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 7, get ready to croon with Michael Bolton. Every housewife went crazy for Bolton in the 1980s and jettisoned him to success. Just in time for Mother’s Day … I guess this is something to which you can take your mom. Tickets are $55 to $85. At 8 p.m., Friday, May 27, Ziggy Marley will be performing. He started out with the Melody Makers in 1979 when he was only 11 years old, and performed with them until 2002, when he decided to go solo. Tickets are $46 to $76. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace was the place to be in April thanks to all of the events in the orbit of Coachella. While the month of May represents a bit of a slowdown, Pappy’s is still hosting some great shows. At 9 p.m., Friday, May 6, punk-band the Bronx will be bringing alter-ego project Mariachi El Bronx (below) to Pappy’s. When you listen to the Bronx, it’s hard to believe that these same people can turn around and perform mariachi music—but they do both quite well. Their brand of mariachi includes both humorous songs and works that may just bring a tear to your eye. Tickers are $15. At 8 p.m., Saturday, May 7, Four Tet will take the stage. Four Tet is an electronica musician who has written jazzy and folk-sounding tunes, while also remixing songs by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Explosions in the Sky and many others. Tickets are $25. At 9 p.m., Saturday, May 14, soul singer Charles Bradley will be performing. Bradley has sort of an odd story: He spent many years as a James Brown impersonator while holding down various jobs (he was a cook, for example) and playing small shows. In 2011, well into his 60s, he released his first album, No Time for Dreaming. Shortly thereafter, he was the subject of a documentary called Soul of America, which told his story. Now late in his life, he’s become a smash success. Last year at Coachella, he brought the house down on the Main Stage, performing a spectacular set. Tickets are $22. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

Published in Previews

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus and the California Desert Chorale are both preparing for their new seasons—and they’re both looking for new members to join in the fun.

At 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus (www.psgmc.com) will be holding auditions. During a recent phone interview, artistic director Doug Wilson explained the audition process.

“What I’m looking for are people who can match pitch,” Wilson said. “They can come in and sing a song that they prepared, something that they have worked on before, or they can sing a simple song like ‘My Country ’Tis of Thee’ or ‘Happy Birthday.’ I’ll take them through a couple of scales just to see if they can match pitch, and that’s all I need to know. If they can match pitch, we bring them into the chorus.”

Upcoming productions include a 30-minute performance at Palm Springs Pride in November, and holiday concerts in December. What’s expected of members once they are accepted into the chorus?

“You need to come to as many of the rehearsals as you possibly can,” Wilson said. “We understand there are issues sometimes related to family and jobs, and we do the best we can to work that out. Rehearsals are on Tuesday nights from 7 to 10 p.m., and every now and then, we’ll have a Saturday rehearsal to touch people up if they’ve missed rehearsals. They also have to memorize music; it does take some practice outside of the rehearsal time to memorize music, but we provide rehearsal tracks and do as much as we can to get people through that process. We also have $120 a year in member dues, and that helps for the costs of the music and things that also come up in the course of time. If you can’t pay that $120, we’ll work with you.”

Wilson said that the chorus, in some ways, is like a family.

“The chorus is a great bunch of guys to work with,” he said. “We call our audition night ‘Join Our Family,’ because we really consider each other our friends and family. We have social activities like potluck dinners. We have dinners where our board serves all the members of the chorus, and we have a snack break at all of our rehearsals to meet other guys and become part of the family. Some of them go out and do things together, and they become really good friends.”

Meanwhile, the California Desert Chorale will be holding auditions at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 31, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Palm Desert. While the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus is for, as the name says, gay men, the California Desert Chorale is open to both men and women. During a recent interview, artistic director Tim Bruneau explained how the 22-year-old chorus operates. 

“About a third of the (members of the) California Desert Chorale are working professional singers,” Bruneau said. “The others are just talented amateurs, but it’s an in-depth experience, and people want to work hard to make it happen. … We’re going into a full concert season with a holiday concert series in December, a big gala concert in February, and concert performance in April. Everything we do, we do with a chamber orchestra of about 18 players, and do a great variety of music.”

In the spring, the California Desert Chorale will be doing a concert called Mozart, Motown, and My Way, a combination of classical music, R&B music from Motown performers, and some Sinatra songs.

Bruneau said anyone who is interested should visit the California Desert Chorale’s website at www.californiadesertchorale.org, where there is a detailed list of what’s required at the auditions. “It involves performing a memorized solo piece, reading over the pieces they submit to sing at the audition, pitch memory exercises, and some repetition of foreign languages, because we sing a number of languages. It’s good to see if people have the ability to mimic a language even if they’re not able to speak it.”

There are a lot of requirements for members, including a commitment to rehearsals.

“We have Monday evening rehearsals 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in September through April. We also have two Saturday morning rehearsals during the September through December months, and then two more in January through April. I maintain a policy: If someone misses more than two rehearsals, they are not allowed to sing in the concerts. I don’t stray from that too often; our program is too complex.

“We’re very familial. Part of our mission statement is diverse membership and diverse audiences. We’re not a gay organization or a straight organization, but a diverse organization. We have members ranging from 18 to 90. It’s the valley’s community choral organization, and it really represents a broad section of the community in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. It’s a wonderful mix of human beings and very welcoming. We have a buddy system where every new member is taken under the wing of someone else and welcomed into the fold that way, and we have social gatherings where the members get to know each other better. It’s rigorous and demanding, but very friendly and welcoming.”