For Kurt Berentsen, conducting his choir is a body-and-soul experience.
Moving like a traffic cop, his hands and arms signal the tempo and pitch, his fingers snap to the beat, his large frame bounces on his bar stool, and a boyish grin spreads across his face.
That Berentsen, 37, loves music and directing the choir he organized three years ago is obvious. That the 120 members of Gold Coast Community Chorus-- from teens to retirees--adore him is equally apparent.
"He's absolutely fantastic," said Marlene Reinhart, who has been in the chorus since it began. "He has an extremely positive attitude. He never says anything bad."
Gordon Wilson agreed. "Kurt is the most motivating guy. Even on his worst day, he keeps us up."
Berentsen's ability to inspire his singers--most of whom don't read music--has earned the chorus an opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall.
In July the group, whose members come from Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo, will join the Manhattan Philharmonic under the baton of British composer John Rutter. They will sing his "Requiem Mass" based on the work of Faure, a late 19th-Century composer.
To get that engagement, Berentsen submitted an audition tape of Mozart's "Requiem" that the chorus performed last spring. The Gold Coast Community Chorus was chosen from among hundreds of entries.
Although he said he disliked the competitiveness involved in the selection process, Berentsen was pleased that "our performance was chosen as having the ingredients needed for a first-rate production. I hate people to have to lose. I like win-win situations," he said.
That outlook shows in the way Berentsen organizes the choir. No auditions are held. No one is ever turned away.
"Anyone who wants to sing can sing."
The musical experience of singers in the chorus varies widely. Several are directors of church choirs; a few have sung professionally; others have almost no musical background at all.
Yet Berentsen, with what he calls his cheerleader style, pulls everyone together.
"One of 15 people may be wandering, looking for the notes. But you don't hear that one voice as being off. In music there's lots of noise. There is no perfect sound with people. It's an extension of life. We're not all in tune, so why should music be? But we're all striving for the same objective and we attain it," he said.
The chorus performs three programs in five concerts each year, usually to standing- room-only audiences. The next performances are the Holiday Sing on Dec. 13 and 14 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ventura.
In March, local audiences can hear the same concert the chorus will present in Carnegie Hall. A Spring Sing in June will feature patriotic songs that the group will perform again in the New York City area on July 4.
The Gold Coast Community Chorus is not Berentsen's first choral success. In 1982, when he lived in Santa Barbara, he began the Santa Barbara Oratorio Chorale, which continues under another director.
Berentsen also oversees or directs 11 music groups at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ventura, where he is minister of music. Previously he conducted choirs at churches of various denominations and for a Jewish temple. "I called it my Old Testament time," he said.
He has also taught music at Ventura College and Pepperdine University.
And he has lifted his own baritone voice on many occasions. In June, 1989, he led the national anthem at Dodger Stadium game. While in college he performed with the American Youth Choir, which sang at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and on tour in Europe. In graduate school at Indiana University, Berentsen sang at the Metropolitan Opera with a student company.
Berentsen was born in North Hollywood but lived in Nampa, Ida., from when he was 9 until he was 16. He credits the Idaho school system for his musical foundation.
"Think of Idaho and you think of potatoes and hick kids from the farm. But there were three full-time music teachers in my high school. I had classes in music theory and history. I was involved in concert band, in jazz band, orchestra," he said.
Music, he said, can uplift and develop a person's emotions and thoughts. It can encourage communication and an esprit de corps . It can be used for meditation and to stimulate thinking.
"Our well-being can be closely tied to our state of being," he said, "and music can help tune that."
UP CLOSE KURT BERENTSEN
Life's work: Making music. Berentsen directs the Gold Coast Community Chorus and is minister of music at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ventura.
Favorite music: "Quality music in any genre or style."
Aim in creating the community chorus: To provide an opportunity for people who want to
sing but have limited experience and time.
Instruments: The trombone and his own baritone voice.
Personalized license plate: MU 6 4 GOD
WHERE AND WHEN
The Gold Coast Community Chorus will present two performances of its concert "Holiday Sing--1990" on Dec. 13 and 14. Both concerts are at 7:30 at Trinity Lutheran Church 196 N. Ashwood Ave., Ventura. Tickets are $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors and $3.50 for children. For information, call (805) 649-3471.