by James Garcia Jr.
In the six years that my family and I have been attending Kingsburg Community Church, we have had a few different Worship Leaders. All have been very good, but little did I know how special our current leader was. He wears many different hats: Music Teacher, Choral Director, Composer, Musician, Recording Engineer and Producer to name but a few. However, Kevin is so much more than simply a few weighty titles, and he seems to want more for his music than simply worldly accolades.
“It is nothing short of a miracle to have a conductor, musician, and composer of Kevin’s talent and spiritual commitment as our Choir Director at KCC,” said Pastor Ed Ezaki of Kingsburg Community Church. “Kevin is a wonderful combination of great talent and deep Christian humility. He really lives out the truth that our gifts are from God to be used to build others up.”
Attending church and being involved with Worship was only a matter of time for Kevin. They really were decisions made well before he had been born. “My family received salvation in my father’s generation. Church has always been a big part of my life.”
Kevin grew up in Southern California where his dad, two uncles and grandmother were all musicians. “I cannot remember exactly when I received Christ, but He has given me the abilities to lead music and worship. I began to work as pianist/organist in churches at about 12 years old. In fact, I remember having trouble reaching the organ pedals at that age!”
At age five, Kevin began playing the piano and was already composing by twelve, largely due to a bet with his father. In hindsight, it appears that the signs have been there from the very beginning, aided by a special gift not necessarily bestowed upon every musician. “Admittedly, my piano teachers suffered through much as I tried playing all the right notes, but always ended up adding my own endings to pieces.”
“I think I always had a knack for stylizing the great classical masters,” continued Kevin. “In retrospect, I think I should have just played what was written. I knew it was wrong at the time, and now that I am a private instructor, I see the same in my students! Early on, I was improvising, following the careers of great film composers and elaborating on their themes in different classical styles. I attribute these skills largely to my sense of pitch. I soon discovered that I possessed a skill known as perfect pitch, which allows me to hear music and know exactly what notes are being played without the aid of an instrument.”
It was on a family vacation traveling across the states in a motor home when Kevin began composing. “Somewhere in Utah, my dad ran out of quarters for me to use in the arcade and challenged me to write some music instead. I think he was trying to get rid of me for a few hours. I can remember writing one of my first pieces. It was for flute, violin and piano. I spent hours on it, hearing it all in my head. When we returned home, the family got together to perform it and much to everyone’s surprise (but mine) it worked beautifully. We ended up touring churches in Southern California for a few years performing it.”
Young Kevin apparently still had his thoughts on acquiring quarters for arcades. He convinced his father to pay him 25 cents per measure. After he had cleaned him out for $130, a few things were decided. “One, repeat signs wouldn’t count,” Kevin said. “Two, I knew I had found my new love.”
Kevin has a connection to Kings River Life Magazine. He has known author, singer and Editor-in-Chief/Publisher, Lorie Ham, for a very long time. He has performed on and produced her albums. “I have programmed and played tracks for Lorie’s songs for many years,” shared Kevin. “She has used my home studio to create orchestrated backgrounds, record voices and mix her albums.”
“I’ve known Kevin since he was a teenager,” said Lorie. “I remember recording my first solo CD with him in the studio in his parent’s house in Reedley and paying him in Taco Bell tacos. He has written songs with my brother Christopher Lewis, played for and engineered all of my CDs, as well as a couple for our family singing group, The Leon Lewis Family. As a friend, he’s been a part of all of our weddings, shared game nights with us and been like a part of the family. As a musician, he is one of the best I know and I have no worries trusting my music to him.”
Kevin has not only produced music, but scored the music for two feature films as well. “One was a small budget Hollywood film: Final Encounter, starring Dean Cain. The other was a local Hmong film I did about two years ago.”
For the past 10 years, Kevin’s efforts have been to make a career as a choral composer and he has definitely succeeded. Choral directors contact him for commissioned work for their groups, with the most notable to date being Travis Rogers, California President of American Choral Director’s Association and Napa High School choir director.
However, not only has his music been performed in some of the most famous halls and in some very prestigious competitions, but Kevin has taken at least one fabled stage himself. “I accompany Clovis East High School choirs and their recent successes in music festivals allowed them the honor to perform in Carnegie Hall. In 2008, I had the honor of conducting my arrangement of ‘Ave Maria’ on that stage.”
Other choirs have performed his works in large choral festivals around the world. “I think that’s one of the tiny indicators of the global reach of my music when I hear from people about performances of my music,” said Kevin. “It’s a good feeling and quite indescribable. Just this summer my publisher took his choirs to Croatia and performed some of my music. Last March, I was able to attend the ACDA National Conference in the Chicago Symphony Hall, where two pieces of mine were performed by nationally distinguished groups.”
Recently, Kevin established a choral series with Pavane Publishing. Developments are still on the new side of things, but its importance couldn’t be understated. He has also had the distinction of having his music programmed for the ACDA National.
“A choral series can define a specific conductor and his/her preference of styles,” stated Kevin. “I currently have pieces with the Jo-Michael Scheibe (USC), Jonathan Talberg (CSU Long Beach) and next year with Judith Herrington. Having these people’s names associated with my music means that there is a verifiable quality to the music. When a potential buyer of my music sees that it is associated with a fine director (and performing group) they will have greater confidence in the purchase.”
In the past few years, Kevin has had the honor of having singing groups perform his music at American Choral Director’s Association festivals. According to Kevin, the American Choral Director’s Association is the largest organization in the country for choral music. Thousands of members (choir directors, singers, performers, vendors, etc…) gather each year to convene and hear top US singing groups. It is at these conventions where publishers push their latest and greatest titles. “I had two fine groups perform my songs at this past year’s national convention in Chicago,” said Kevin. “The performance was heard by at least 5000 musicians.”
“In March of 2012, our Clovis East women’s chorale has the distinction of being invited to perform for the Western Division convention in Reno. They will be doing one of my latest (unpublished as of now). It is the best place to go if you are looking for new music. It was in these exhibits that my printed chorale titles was in, and it was an honor to be ‘on the shelf’ next to some of the biggest names in choral music in the world.”With all that Kevin has going on in his life, including being a husband and father to three sons, one might think that traveling from Fresno to Kingsburg twice a week for both choir practice and two church services would get very tiresome and old; however, nothing could be further from the truth. “Working in churches, and especially at Kingsburg Community allows me to direct choir.
“Yes, it is a labor of love, but the rewards are great. First, let me say that KCC is my home church. It just so happens that I work there too. It is a place where I can take my family and know that the gospel received is pure, the praise is genuine and the programs for my kids are valuable and make a difference.”
Apparently, the feeling is deeply mutual. Pastor Ezaki is not only overjoyed to have Kevin as Choir Director, but to know the entire family. “If we need music for a special occasion, he always comes up with the perfect match for the setting. Usually, I only find out afterward that the perfect piece is an original composition that he wrote. And the bonus is that Kevin, Melody and their kids are deeply loved by our church family. They bring joy and fun and deep faith to our church fellowship. I am deeply grateful to God for bringing the Memley’s to KCC.”
Kevin Memley can be found at Kingsburg Community Church most Sundays and on his website. Although his printed chorale music is only available for purchase, recordings of just about everything else that he does is free for download there. He is also an accompanist to The San Joaquin Chorale, Willow/International College Choir and the Clovis East choirs.