Beauty and skill at Kay White Invitational Choral Festival

If you made it to any of the inaugural Kay White Invitational Choral Festival concerts, you really scored!

If you made it to any of the inaugural Kay White Invitational Choral Festival concerts, you really scored!

There are many wonderful things about Vashon, and one is our amazing on-island artistic richness — and over April 23 to 28, we enjoyed a week of off-island performers, capped by a performance of our very own Vashon Island Chorale of “Carmina Burana.”

This week of choral performances included tight harmonies, vocal diversity, broad choice in the musical repertoire, talented accompanists, audience participation, call and response, and tons of fun.

The first week-long, VCA-sponsored music festival was the 2023 Piano Fete: four nights of stirring piano pieces, including original compositions by the artists. Vyacheslav Gryaznov (Slava) led and leads a group of talented pianists and composers as they pour their energies into robust and inspirational presentations, using innovation and spontaneity liberally.

When I first heard about this series, I decided to attend all four concerts. I bought two tickets to the series, knowing that my husband would come to hear Rachmaninoff, and shopped the second seat to friends for the other evenings.

By week’s end, the audience was rapidly expanding and there were steadily more attendees, including several I picked up, once people realized how compelling the concerts were.

The artists’ dedication, talent, and personal touch each evening made for maximal enjoyment of their artistry. The final concert was in conjunction with an inclusive performance alongside the Vashon/Maury Island Chamber Orchestra, wonderfully and warmly directed by multi-talented Slava, whose lively personality makes for grand fun along the way.

Several friends and I used to attend the Midsummer Musical Retreat, a rewarding week-long immersive musical summer camp, mostly for older adults, and this Piano Fete experience was akin to a miniature version of that.

By the end, I was “concerted out” — only for a short while, of course — but the week was memorable, and left me looking forward to this year’s Fete.

I’ve thought a number of times about how it feels to go to one concert versus a series of concerts, and the intensity and enrichment are on a totally different scale. And personally, I came to better know people I sat next to, and made a couple of good new friends — not a small thing — while connecting over lovely music. We’ve resolved to get the same seats adjacent to each other this year.

And so it was with the Choral Festival.

From the Emerald Ensemble, singing a cappella, we heard a 16th-century Mass, a spiritual, an original arrangement by Gary Cannon, the director of our very own Vashon Island Chorale, and a modern requiem.

STANCE, the Seattle Trans and Nonbinary Choral Ensemble poured their voices and hearts out movingly in fervent and expressive songs of acceptance and validation.

From the Ancora Women’s Choir, also a cappella, came tight harmony, precision performance, and an ethereal Magnificat, along with several complex madrigals.

The African American Cultural Ensemble performed stirring pieces from memory, engaging the audience — at one point all Vashon Island Chorale attendees, about 40, were invited onto the stage to share several songs, in a surprise to all. Their director and pianist, Kent Stevenson, had his dog Pinky White with him on stage, so he is an honorary Vashonian! Watching their musical director is like watching ballet; with wonderfully long fingers, he does for music what signers for the hearing-impaired do for language. It is mesmerizing.

The Sound of the Northwest featured spirituals and talented sequential vocalists leading the numbers, again from memory — including several call and response pieces, a serious monologue of a mother who lost a daughter to the Alabama church bombing, and a bonus performance by an amazingly energetic marimba band.

And then “Carmina Burana” — its own phenomenon. Each day and each concert had its delights.

I am inspired to go hear the Seattle concerts performed by these groups, which I would not even know existed but for this series.

I admit, I am “concerted out” again at this point (only briefly) — and really, really happy that I had the privilege of enjoying all of this musical largesse.

On to the 2024 Piano Fete, July 10 through 13. I hope to see you there!

Mary Frances Lyons is a happily retired Vashon resident who loves all things musical.