When Utah Voices founding director Dr. Michael Huff announced that he would be leaving the choir after six seasons, our singers knew there was only one person who could possibly fill that space: Kelly DeHaan. Kelly had been the associate conductor and principal accompanist for the choir’s first five seasons and always brought humor and cheer to rehearsals, in addition to musical excellence. Lucky for us, Kelly missed Utah Voices almost as much as Utah Voices missed him, and now he is back as the new artistic director for season seven.
Kelly brings twenty years of experience as a music teacher, and plenty of accolades: He was awarded the O.C. Tanner Recognition Award in 2003, the Jordan Education Foundation Outstanding Educator Award in 2008, the UMEA Music Educator of the Year Award in 2009, and the Utah Educators Association Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014. Kelly has a mountain of other music experience, which you can read all about in his bio, but we wanted to learn a little more about what Kelly is really like. And he was kind enough to oblige with this interview.
What were your earliest musical influences?
The directors and teachers I had as a child were a massive influence on the direction of my life. Mary Bothwell was my first piano teacher at age seven and I still remember many of my lessons with her. Taking cello from Mr. Turner and choir from Mr. Clay Peterson in elementary school seriously changed my life as well. I realized that music was part of who I was early on and became hungry to develop that part of me. Mr. Dee Rich in junior high, Mr. Norm Wendell in high school, Dr. John R. Cooksey and Dr. Edgar J. Thompson at the University of Utah all had huge impact on who I am as a musician and a man today.
How did you decide that you wanted music to be your career?
I fought it the best I could. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and as a young man, music seemed like a soft option. I tried pursuing a pre-med program for a very difficult term at the University of Utah, but I made the mistake of taking choir at the same time. I found I was loving choir and hating biology. I remember sitting on the lawn of our tiny apartment with my brand new wife. She could tell something was wrong. I told her that I didn’t want to be a doctor. She said, “Of course not. You’re supposed to be a music teacher.” That was it. It has turned out to be the opposite of a soft option. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Teaching high school music has made my life rich and beautiful. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What is your favorite part about teaching teenagers music?
They are hilarious. They are just about fully formed human beings. They have fierce opinions and yet are so open to new experiences. I love watching them add to their abilities, increase their knowledge, and extend their courage. The kids at West Jordan High School have added dimension and richness to my life. My relationships with them are the treasures of my life. Watching them perform brings me a deep and true joy. I’ve had the opportunity to leave the high school realm to teach college, and I just couldn’t bring myself to leave these kids. Laughing keeps you young and music keeps you happy.
And you have probably learned a thing or two from them as well. What’s something your students have taught you?
To not take myself so seriously. “Relax DeHaan! We’ll get it.” High school students get a bad rap for being self absorbed and short-sighted. I have found them to be insightful, generous, tenacious and patient.
In addition to teaching high school music, you’re involved in a lot of different aspects music Utah, including your role as the music director at Hale Center Theater. What has been your favorite musical to be a part of at HCT?
Usually whatever my current project is ends up being my new favorite. I’m so lucky to work at the Hale Centre Theatre. We work so hard together to bring high quality family friendly theatre to our audiences. I enjoy directing, but I love performing! My favorite role was Detective Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can last year. I’ve never had so much fun on stage. Singing and dancing with six gorgeous women spinning around you is quite the kick in the pants.
What are you most looking forward to for your first year as the Utah Voices Artistic Director?
Establishing relationships of trust and friendship. When a choir trusts you, they will work twice as hard to reach their goals. Dr. Michael Huff has done a brilliant job with this choir. I can’t believe that this amazing group brought me into their circle. They have been patient and kind and have already worked so hard. I look forward to working with them every single week. I look forward to the group growing in numbers and ability. Our crazy-ambitious and brilliant board can make anything happen.
Tell me about your vision for Utah Voices in the coming years.
Finding the perfect balance of music that entertains the audience and yet stretches the singers is the eternal challenge with a non-auditioned community choir. I want to help create a safe environment of trust in our rehearsals: an environment that encourages growth and risk and productivity. I want the singers to laugh a lot, but to also work harder than they’ve ever worked. We lose numbers whenever we do the tough music. I hope to be able to retain “recreational singers” as we tackle the masterworks together. I have a vision of living within our means financially. This may not win me any fans audience-wise but I feel it’s important to be responsible for our financial survival. I hope to do music that inspires and reaches and educates. I hope to maintain and establish new relationships with other performing organizations as well.
When you’re not directing or teaching music with HCT, Utah Voices, Sterling Singers or your high school or private students, what do you like to do with your time (as if there is any left)?
Being with my family is by far my favorite activity. I treasure my time with [my wife] Shellie and my boys. I also have two sweet little dogs that I love deeply. I enjoy walking and driving my convertible and going to the movies. I’m also addicted to fantasy novels and Diet Dr. Pepper.