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Curtain Call: Rep Singers' Seidman finds time for creativity

Richard Seidman’s resume reveals a man of many interests and talents, ranging from writing screenplays and holding a black belt in karate, to arts management and administration.

But his day job has been challenging as of late.

The executive director of Southern Oregon Repertory Singers normally would count marketing and overseeing front-of-the-house logistics at performances as part of his multifaceted job. However, during the pandemic the emphasis has been on the hard-core responsibilities — fundraising, budgets and managing finances.

Not long after he was hired in 2017, he lobbied the board to pay for professional video and audio recording of Rep Singers concerts. The board agreed and it turned out to be a move that some would describe as prescient.

“Little did I realize how precious this archive would be during the time of shutdown,” Seidman said. “We’ve been able to share highlights from past concerts we call ‘Glimpses of Beauty’ twice each month.”

Augmenting the concert highlights are interviews by Musical Director Paul French. His conversations with world-famous composers Eriks Esenvald and Eric Whitacre and with featured choir members have added to the Rep Singers’ digital content and presence on the web.

The online programming helps keep the connection alive between the singers and the audience, and it encourages donors to step up during difficult times to support the organization and prepare for the future.

Rep Singers has a lean budget with relatively low overhead.

“Our income has been down significantly,” he said, “but, on the other hand, so are expenses. And our donors have been very generous.”

Besides having a healthy reserve, Rep Singers benefited from a PPP loan/grant and a CARES grant.

Seidman moved to Ashland in 1999. Before joining Rep Singers, he was development director for the Mederi Foundation in Ashland, development coordinator for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, and assistant director of ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum.

He also has led planning and fundraising efforts for other groups, including Wildlife Safari, Rogue Community College and Sanctuary One.

“I was not familiar with Repertory Singers until I responded to a Craigslist ad almost four years ago that said the organization was seeking to hire its first-ever executive director,” he said.

As soon as he attended his first concert, he was hooked.

“After experiencing the choir’s soul-enriching and heart-touching beauty, I was inspired to be of service to the group.”

He says he enjoys working with the board of directors.

“I am impressed with how talented and committed they are to the group’s mission. Board members are often the unsung heroes in our communities. I have great respect for people who volunteer their time in this way.”

He brought more than two decades of experience in nonprofit administration, fundraising, strategic planning, marketing and promotion to the job.

During his tenure with Rep Singers, attendance at concerts has increased from 78% of capacity of the SOU Music Hall his first year to 85% the next year and 99% last season.

He’s been a builder of organizations for many years.

One of his proudest achievements was founding the Portland-based Friends of Trees in 1989. Under his leadership, the organization was honored for the best urban forestry in the country.

“I’m proud it’s still going strong 31 years later,” he said. “It has organized more than 50,000 volunteers to plant close to a million trees along city streets and in urban natural areas.”

Despite the current tough times, there have been many satisfying moments along the way.

“One was when we completely sold out both our Saturday and Sunday performances for the first time,” he said.

“And it is moving when I look around a packed hall during a concert and see folks weeping from the sheer beauty of the singing.”

He says there are still ways to find meaning and relevance for choral music in the age of the pandemic.

“We are all fortunate to have such a treasure of performances to watch and listen to on YouTube,” he said. “It’s not the same as in-person events, but it sure is nourishing nonetheless.”

There are other sides of Richard Seidman that have nothing to do with running an arts organization.

He has a black belt in Shotokan karate and still trains regularly in the art.

He writes books. His first was “Oracle of Kabbalah: Mystical Teachings of the Hebrew Letters,” published in 2001 by St. Martin’s Press, with a revised edition in 2015 by White Cloud Press.

He has written a few children’s books. Among them is “World Cup Mouse,” self-published in 2014 and inspired by his love of the sport of soccer and championing underdogs.

He also has written 10 screenplays for family films, one of them an homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers. “The Secret of Ebbets Field” was a winner of the 2015 Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition and a top 10 finalist in the PAGE Screenwriting Awards.

“Having grown up in Brooklyn, I always felt a profound longing over the absence of the Dodgers,” he said. “It was my magical realism kind of way to deal with that loss and also celebrate the Dodgers’ World Series victory in 1955.”

And besides all that, he finds time to read, watch plays and movies, hike, and play the harmonica.

But when the pandemic ends, you’ll find him back in the front of the house at SOU Music Hall on concert nights, one of his favorite places to be.

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Richard Seidman, executive director of the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers.