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Chorale’s latest concert a rare celebration of Vashon composers
Vashon Island Chorale will present its spring concert this weekend, featuring an eclectic repertoire that includes ballads, religious works, jazz, love songs and even a choral soundtrack from a major motion picture. What everything on the diverse menu of music has in common is a direct connection to Vashon.
The concert, dubbed “Songs in the Key of V: Celebrating Vashon Composers,” was the brainchild of chorale artistic director Gary Cannon.
More than a year ago, Cannon began to imagine what a Vashon-themed concert might sound like, and he said he was delighted by what he heard when he began to listen to locally composed music.
“I was thrilled to discover so much fine music connected to our Island,” he said.
In fact, he added, he found so many local works that in the end, he had to make some difficult choices about what to include in the final repertoire.
Islanders can delight in his decisions on Saturday and Sunday, when 60 chorale members sing works by 11 different composers.
Compositions by current and former Vashon residents will include Irvin “Buzz” Brusletten’s “Country Wedding,” a piece that Cannon described as “perfectly encapsulating Island life.”
Brusletten, who moved to Vashon in 1978 and lived here until his death in 2010, was a well-traveled and erudite composer, scholar and teacher who had a wide breadth of expertise in many musical forms.
Cannon said he is also looking forward to hearing chorale members sing in Russian in “Hymn to Red October,” a work by Basil Poledouris, who lived on Vashon for the last four years of his life, from 2002 to 2006.
Poledouris was a noted Greek-American composer who wrote scores for blockbuster films, including “Conan the Barbarian,” “Free Willy” and “The Hunt for Red October.” He won an Emmy Award for his score of the television series, “Lonesome Dove.”
The concert will also feature two religious works by local composer Charles Lovekin.
One of them, a variation of “Ave Maria,” was written by Lovekin in the 1970s, when he was a music theory student. Lovekin said the piece was written during a time in his life when he knew so little about religion that he had to go to the library to find out the wording to Catholic prayers.
“Maria was as foreign to me as Timbuktu,” he said. Still, he said, he was happy with the composition, and explained that it has deep personal meaning to him. Now a devout Catholic, Lovekin sees the work as “an early call out of darkness” for himself.
The chorale will also perform Lovekin’s more recent composition, “Sing Alleluia,” a piece he said was inspired by a Ugandan priest, Rev. Sylvester Ssemanda, who had a brief tenure as interim pastor at Vashon’s St. John Vianney Church. The work is dedicated to the people of Uganda.
The concert will also include Islander Craig Hanson’s work, “I Knew a Woman.” Hanson, a well-known Island architect and the husband of Vashon High School Principal Susan Hanson, sings in the bass section of the chorale.
Other parts of the program offer works by composers who never lived on Vashon, but have had close relationships to Islanders.
“For all the Saints,” arranged by Robert Shaw, is one of those. Shaw, a renowned choral conductors during the last half of the 20th century, spent time on the Island visiting his relative Pat Hudson. Hudson directed the Chorale in the 1990s.
Two other pieces, “Mass of Saint Louis” and “Psalm 23,” were composed by Frank Speller, the father of Islander Arlette Moody, who sings in the chorale’s soprano section.
Speller, a retired professor of organ and harpsichord at the University of Texas in Austin, has been described in reviews as “one of the most brilliant organists in America” and a “remarkably gifted performer.” His organ and choral compositions are published by various American editors. He’ll travel from Texas to Vashon to hear the chorale and renowned Northwest organist Paul Tegels perform his compositions.
Two other pieces in the concert are “Nunc dimities,” by Peter Chamberlain — his grandmother Myrla Dean sings in the alto section — and “If I have my ticket, Lord,” a rousing spiritual arranged by Tim Drewes, whose brother Dennis Drewes sings in the tenor section.
Audiences will also be treated to two movements of “Vashon Suite,” by West Seattleite Bronwyn Edwards, and to the 1920s Tin Pan Alley hit “Vashon Island Moon,” written by Lena Davis.
“If Music” — a short work by Gary Cannon that was composed in 2010 in honor of chorale member Kay White’s 90th birthday — will also be sung. White has donated millions of dollars to Vashon Allied Arts for the construction of a new arts center — a place chorale members hope will become their permanent home.
The chorale got its start in 1989 as a group called Island Singers. Since its inception, the chorale has include at least 250 local singers in almost 60 concerts performed on the Island at various locations. Countless instrumentalists have played in orchestras for the chorale’s concerts and many talented pianists have served as rehearsal accompanists, including the group’s current pianist, Linda Lee.
Cannon said he hoped the whole concert will be a fitting tribute to the composers of Vashon — people who until now haven’t gotten their fair share of acclaim on the Island.
“I’ve always been very impressed by the way Vashon honors its visual artists, musicians and performing artists, but I hadn’t heard about a way that it had ever celebrated its composers,” he said. “I thought that was unusual, because I knew there had to be some here.”
Vashon Island Chorale’s concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Bethel Church. Tickets, $12.50 and $10, are on sale at www.brownpapertickets.com, the Vashon Bookshop, Essentials 4 and the Blue Heron.