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Free Key Choir: 'What's in a Name'

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A collage of four images of a choir singing inside a church.
Free Key Choir (Photo courtesy of Qinghui Kong/Collage by Spencer Whitney of KQED)

The Sunday Music Drop is a weekly radio series hosted by the KQED weekend news team. In each segment, we feature a song from a local musician or band with an upcoming show and hear about what inspires their music.

Free Key Choir rehearses at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, where Derek Sup is the musical director. Sup began playing piano at the age of six and has been directing music at the church for the last 10 years.

He majored in composition and decided after the pandemic that he wanted to start a choir in October 2022. He was surprised by how quickly the choir grew after they had concerts months later.

“It was still like kind of sketchy COVID time, so we were rehearsing outside in the backyard of the church in the dark — because it was October — it was really cold,” he says. “And we would do that every week until the concerts in November. The next day after the concerts, I got like a thousand emails of like, ‘How do I join this group?’ And so, the choir doubled effectively the next day. ”

The group has more than 100 members who write all the music performed by the choir.

“I think the choir world and the classical world in general has a tendency to be very buttoned up and take itself very seriously,” Sup says. “And in doing so kind of like writes off pop music and music written by amateur musicians for lack of a better word. There’s no reason to discount that music.”


Regarding “What’s in a Name,” Sup says musician Judith Horn (his bandmate in a group called Katsy Pline) sent him the song that she wrote, sang and played on the acoustic guitar. He thought the melodies were beautiful and could work with a choir. So, he adapted the melodic lines for a five-part harmony and her guitar for a piano.

When asked what attracts people to the choir, Sup says when it’s good, choral singing feels like “you are dancing in perfect time — in synchronicity — with another person or a bunch of other people through sound.”

“It’s like you can enter your voices in, because of how sound works, if you have the same sound wave, and you lock into that exactly with perfect blending through tuning vowels, basically becoming one voice, then you can feel the universe align around you,” he says.

If you’d like to hear them live, Free Key Choir will be performing at First Presbyterian Church of Oakland on June 7, 8 and 9.

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