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“Funds for our community colleges are becoming scarce,” explained Ruggles, “but this group of people weren’t willing to disband the choir simply because the college couldn’t support them.”

So instead of disbanding the Gavilan Concert Choir altogether, the choral music enthusiast simply changed the group’s name, forming the South Bay Singers. Ruggles also set up a website, and opened membership up to anyone 18 years and older.

“Now we’re a community-based choir instead of an education-based choir,” said Ruggles, a Morgan Hill resident who took over the choir four years ago from longtime leader Phil Robb, Gilroy’s famed high school choral director. “We think actually this is going to be great.”

More than 30 members strong and retaining nearly everyone from the former Gavilan Concert Choir, the South Bay Singers, comprised of talent from San Jose, Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy and Hollister, are preparing for their first rehearsal session at 7 p.m., Sept. 17 inside the Gilroy Interim Center for the Arts at 7341 Monterey St.

“You don’t have to have a lot of choral experience. You just have to like to sing,” explained Ruggles, who has already locked up an initial concert date, Saturday, Dec. 7, for the South Bay Singers at the Advent Lutheran Church in Morgan Hill. “We’re trying to get the word out (about the chorus.)”

Anyone interested in joining the group can contact Ruggles at (408) 778-9324, or just stop by for the South Bay Singers’ first rehearsal in September.

“They can just try out that week and, if they like it, they can join us,” said Ruggles, who earned his Master’s degree in music and choral conducting from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1974. Ruggles, who taught secondary education for seven years in the Midwest, spent 32 years with IBM before retiring. He headed several church and community choirs prior to arriving in Morgan Hill in 1989.

“It’s my love,” said Ruggles of choral music. “I enjoy it, and we have a good time.”

The Gavilan Concert Choir began as a course for credit in 1977, according to Ruggles, and was shifted into the community education program and offered as a non-credit course at Gavilan College. The choir’s most recent concert, “A Salute of Broadway,” was performed at the Old Gilroy City Hall downtown last spring.

However, the choir’s partnership with Gavilan College ended Jan. 1 and the South Bay Singers have since partnered with the Gilroy Arts Alliance. Ruggles said this opens the door for gaining nonprofit status and being eligible to accept community-based grants.

“We’re going to be tied with a lot of education,” said Ruggles.

He hopes to gain invitations to local schools and perform as quartets or smaller groups to get students “interested in choral music.”

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