Lifting voices, lifting spirits

Shane Jewell and his wife Emily Pruiksma were on a bike ride on Vancouver Island last summer when inspiration struck.

Tom Pruiksma

Shane Jewell and his wife Emily Pruiksma were on a bike ride on Vancouver Island last summer when inspiration struck.

The couple was getting ready to move back to Vashon, where they had lived on and off since 2002, and start a new community choir.

They had spent a lot of time talking to each other about their ideas for the choir, but they hadn’t been able to think of a good name for the group.

“The Free Range Folk Choir!” Pruiksma suddenly sang out, as she soared past Jewell on the bike trail.

That free-wheeling name, and the ambition to start an exciting new kind of vocal tradition on the Island, has now taken shape as a brand new choir that is already garnering enthusiastic support from Island music aficionados.

The Free Range Folk Choir was founded last October by Jewell, Pruiksma and her brother, Tom Pruiksma.

“We put up a bunch of posters and fliers and just spread the word,” Jewell said, “More people just kept coming out of the woodwork, saying this was the kind of group they’d been looking for.”

The choir now has 35 enthusiastic members, ranging in age from pre-teens to senior citizens and will present a spring concert at 7 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Burton Community Church.

Concert-goers can expect an ambitious and eclectic repertoire that spans a wide variety of styles, including Americana, gospel, Slavic, ancient Hebrew and medieval French songs, as well as music from the South African freedom movement.

The common theme, Jewell said, is that the choir’s repertoire “celebrates the ways that music from around the world can lift the spirit and cultivate community. This is music that is rooted in real places and real people.”

Jewell, 30, is a lanky, ponytailed, mustachioed maestro who brings a deep catalogue of knowledge about world music to his work as the group’s leader.

He grew up in Bellingham, where he sang in the Kulshan Choir, a community chorus that he credited as the model for Vashon’s Free Range Folk Choir. He went on to become a music performance major at Oberlin College, studying viola performance and joining vocal groups in his spare time.

Along the way, Jewell also became an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. He currently has a music studio behind Vashon’s Plum Forest Farm, where he teaches music theory and composition, as well as music lessons on an impressive array of instruments.

“I teach violin, viola, mandolin, guitar, penny whistle, drumming and recorder,” he said with a laugh. “And that’s where I draw the line.”

For choir member Emma Amiad, Jewell’s style of teaching and his infectious ecumenicalism have been inspirational.

“I like world music, and I like the fact that we’re doing it through a call-and-response style of learning,” she said. “We learn just by hearing it, and in most cases, most people learn music better that way. It will probably stick with you a lot longer that way.”

Amiad said she also enjoys singing with a group that is welcoming of so many different aged singers.

“I’m standing next to a little girl who is in middle school, and I’m 67. We also have about four or five other people who bring their smaller children, who play under our feet as we sing,” she said.

Another choir member, Andy James, said he is also enjoying his experience with the choir.

“The whole approach is rooted in the joy of singing,” said James. “It’s not rooted in technical perfection. But Shane is so skillful that we find ourselves doing these complex pieces of music. He can keep it all together.”

And according to James, Jewell’s timing in forming the Free Range Folk Choir was perfect.

“We’re in a hard time now, like everyone else,” he said. “You look at how communities respond to that. You can go into your house and watch more TV, or you can go out and do things with other people that feel good. And nothing feels better than singing with other people.”

More information

The Free Range Folk Choir will perform a concert at 7 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Burton Community Church. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

The choir will also perform at noon Saturday, March 21, at the opening of the farmers market.

The choir rehearses on Monday evenings and is open to anyone ages 10 and older. Membership dues are $40. Contact Shane Jewell at 463-0778 or at

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