Happenstance, and a good ear

The Bainbridge Womens’s Schola is directed by Kathleen Bullivant. She is also leading a new childrens chorus. Auditions for the young singers program will continue until October 1.  She is also the music teacher at Island School. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
The Bainbridge Womens’s Schola is directed by Kathleen Bullivant. She is also leading a new childrens chorus. Auditions for the young singers program will continue until October 1. She is also the music teacher at Island School.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Kathleen Bullivant will lead the Women’s Schola and a new children’s chorus.

Kathleen Bullivant describes her professional development on Bainbridge as one of happenstance.

“Things have just landed in my lap,” the music teacher and chorale director said.

And her story does involve a fair amount of serendipity. After 20 years of teaching at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., Bullivant moved to Bainbridge with her husband four years ago with no particular plan.

On a walk one day, she struck up a conversation with a woman who, on learning of her background, said, “There’s a delightful school that’s looking for a music teacher.”

Similarly, when she and her husband sought out a church, the staff at Rolling Bay Presbyterian was delighted.

“We’re thinking of starting a youth choir,” they told her.

Thus began Bullivant’s work as a music teacher at the Island School and as director of the Rolling Bay Presbyterian youth choir.

This fall, however, it’s reputation rather than coincidence that has led Bullivant to take the reins of not one but two island singing groups, the Bainbridge Women’s Schola and the newly forming Young Singers Program with the Bainbridge Chorale.

Bullivant just wrapped up auditions to fill the Schola, a 16-member group that performs ecumenical and community worship services around the island including a monthly candlelit Evensong service at St. Cecilia Catholic Church.

The group, in existence since 1993, takes a collaborative approach to decision-making. When director Rod Blackburn retired, the group discussed successors; Bullivant’s name came up more than once.

“They really thought it would be neat for the first time to have a woman conducting women,” Bullivant said.

The prospect was doubly exciting for Bullivant, who grew up in the English seaside town of Penzance – the very same that was immortalized by the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance” – with a strong tradition of both women singers and community involvement.

So now, Bullivant would like to see the expansion of the Schola’s role in the community, as well as a new focus on women composers. Ideas include a concert of Renaissance women composers; a partnership with an organization that supports causes for women; and services to benefit a specific cause or events.

“I really do see the partnering opportunities out there,” Bullivant said.

The Women’s Schola requires from its members a certain level of accomplishment: prior choir experience, the ability to sight read and the ability to get comfortable with an arrangement in an efficient 90 minutes of rehearsal prior to each performance.

“Most of these people aren’t coming to learn the music,” Bullivant said. “They’re coming to sing together.”

By contrast, the new Young Singers Program is all about starting from the beginning. Each of the three separate choirs, divided according to age, will learn the nuts and bolts of choral technique and performance.

The Bainbridge Chorale, which at one point had a small children’s chorus that disbanded, has long wanted a more robust youth program.

Throughout this past winter, Bullivant worked with the chorale to lay the groundwork for the new program, with the simple mission of bringing “a group of children in the general community to come together and sing.”

Bullivant has no plans to limit the groups to classical or traditional pieces; the choirs will explore jazz, world music and even hip-hop, to expose singers to all types of music in an upbeat environment while stressing that “every voice is needed to be part of a team.”

“My feeling is that children and adults should really explore all colors of music,” Bullivant said, “because you don’t really know what you like unless you hear it. And sing it.”

Youth auditions have been ongoing since late summer. During one tryout, Bullivant asked the child, a second-grader, why he liked to sing.

“‘I can’t tell you why, because I’m only in second grade,’” she recalls him saying. “‘But I can tell you that it makes me feel funny and good.’”

In many ways, that expression encapsulated Bullivant’s feelings about song and the teaching of it.

“These kids can’t express why they want to sing, but they do know how it makes them feel inside,” she said.

Bullivant is warmed by the reception she’s gotten on the island. At last weekend’s Auction for the Arts, more than one person expressed the importance of “living on the island and being part of the island arts community,” as well as their pride in having so many “homegrown” contributors in their midst.

“The arts on the island are a very open group of people who come together to celebrate the arts, literally,” she said “I’ve been encouraged by them to explore and express my talents.”

And with two new groups under her wing, a new generation of islanders will get Bullivant’s encouragement as well.

“We’d all benefit from a little singing,” she said.


A little singing

The Bainbridge Women’s Schola, under the direction of Kathleen Bullivant, sings Evensong at 8 p.m. the third Sunday of each month at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, beginning Sept. 16. Auditions for the Young Singers Program are ongoing until Oct. 1. Email Bullivant at

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