Arts and Entertainment

Island Chorale celebrates 25 years with a free concert

A special slide show presentation of photographs taken by chorale members will illustrate the music during Sunday
A special slide show presentation of photographs taken by chorale members will illustrate the music during Sunday's concert.
— image credit: Ralph Moore Photo

The Vashon Island Chorale will celebrate a quarter century of singing in a free concert on Sunday.

Twenty-five years ago island singers Susan Hedrick and Judy Whitney made a fateful decision. Though island church choirs were plentiful, community choirs were nonexistent. So Hedrick and Whitney took the musical staff by the signature key — rather than the bull by the horns — and  formed their own choir. They called the group of 20 the Island Singers. Little did they know then that the Island Singers would eventually morph into the Vashon Island Chorale, boasting a membership of 250 singers, annual sold-out shows and two concert performances at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.

In an offering of commemoration and thanks for the many years of support from their island fans, the chorale commissioned West Seattle composer Bronwyn Edwards to create a 45-minute, multi-movement work that celebrates the island’s history and culture. “Vashon Suite: No Bridges” pays musical, lyrical and humorous tribute to numerous island icons — the ferries, eagles, salmon, strawberries, rain, mountains, trees, shore, the creative and artistic island residents and of course, no bridges.

Edwards first worked with the choir when two of her songs about Vashon were selected for the chorale’s Local Composer Festival in 2012. Her original intention was to write a suite of songs about Vashon, so when Gary Cannon, artistic director of the chorale approached her to see if she would complete the series for the anniversary concert, Edwards didn’t think twice.

“I jumped at the opportunity to develop my original sketches, as well as expand my Vashon vision a little more to include some other aspects of this vibrant island with a rural feel, unconnected to the mainland by bridges — hence the title,” she said.

“No Bridges” also heralds the island’s Native American history, Captain Vancouver’s journey of discovery and early island pioneers.

Chorale president Jo Ann Bardeen laughed when she recalled how Cannon — who recently added a notable feather to his cap with the completion of his doctorate — lit a passionate fire in the singers at a recent rehearsal. He asked the choir to run through “No Bridges” again, only this time with real feeling.

“He said, now imagine McDonald’s will have two outlets, one on each end of the island,” Bardeen said. “You are irate, and I want you to sing with that in mind. That set the mood.”

Needless to say, the group belted out the title song.

Adding some visual spice to the concert, islander Rick Wallace created a photographic narrative from images chorale members took and will project them during the concert. Island pianist Linda Lee will accompany the more than 50  singers under Cannon’s direction. The free concert is underwritten by a grant from 4Culture, submitted and secured by chorale treasurer Karen Baer.

On the chorale’s website, the choir’s mission is stated as promoting fine choral music in the Vashon community. For Edwards, whose background is in piano rather than voice, choral singing is a relatively new addition to her career. She’s directed the Fauntleroy Church’s Chancel Choir for the past five years and along with her composing she said she has grown to appreciate the world of choral music.

“What was initially baptism by fire has certainly developed into a passion for the exquisite sounds that emanate from layers of human voices in harmony and dissonance, combinations of both. Now I have the opportunity to bring these (island) scenes to life with voices, harmony, instrumentation and soul,” she said.

Vashon Island Chorale’s 25th Anniversary Celebration concert “Vashon Suite: No Bridges” will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday at Bethel Church. Admission is free.

A second concert will take place at West Seattle’s Fauntleroy Church at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 1. Tickets at the door are $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are free.

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