Lifting up a song of thanks for Kay White’s generosity

The Kay White Choral Festival will be another tribute to Kay’s vision and contribution to our community.

The first annual Katherine L. White Invitational Choral Festival — or Kay White Choral Fest, for short — is coming to Vashon Center for the Arts from Tuesday, April 23 to Sunday, April 28 — featuring six outstanding choral arts ensembles from across the Pacific Northwest, including Vashon’s own Chorale. (See article, on page 7.)

With plans to make this an annual event, the festival was named in honor of Katherine “Kay’” White, since her love of choral music led her to provide the major funding for the arts center and its state-of-the-art performance hall. When the Kay White Hall opened in April 2016, the Vashon Island Chorale performed its first concert in her name.

Almost eight years after that opening gala concert weekend, the Kay White Choral Festival will be another tribute to Kay’s extraordinary vision and contribution to our community.

Our Chorale had a true angel in its midst for 15 years. Kay joined the Chorale in 2001 and sang in the tenor section until a year before her passing in 2017. During her time with the Vashon Island Chorale, Kay knew very well the odd performance situations the group faced as its numbers grew and church and auditorium spaces were challenging venues.

Steve Amsden, Kay’s longtime friend and employee, recalls a morning coffee break conversation with her in early 2007 about how she should spend her money to its fullest advantage. He advised her to dedicate the funds to a performance center, since she often mentioned the critical need for that in our community, especially for “her” chorale.

Fast forward to August of 2007, when then executive director of Vashon Allied Arts, Molly Reed, received a phone call from Kay’s lawyer asking if the organization would be interested in a substantial investment to help build a new arts center with a state-of-the-art performance hall. The answer, of course, was a resounding “yes!”

Nine years later, in April of 2016, Vashon Center for the Arts opened its new doors to the community. The Chorale performed the three “Carmina Burana” concerts in her name to honor Kay. Only this occasion had the singers on a professional stage with choral risers, for which the group had raised the needed funds, and with advanced acoustics inside her eponymous hall.

Vashon Center for the Arts would not be what it is today, nor would islanders of all ages be as enriched by the arts as they currently are without Kay’s extraordinary contribution.

Kay felt well enough to attend the final gala concert in 2016. Watching the delight on her face while seated in the front row of the audience that Sunday afternoon was thrilling. Her close friend Suni Kim was next to Kay, and recalls Kay humming along because “Carmina Burana” was her favorite piece of music to sing!

In recognition of her dream performance center having finally been realized after eight long years of work, the Chorale sang “Cockeyed Optimist” from the musical “South Pacific,” by Rodgers and Hammerstein (another favorite of Kay’s). But her smile was particularly memorable as we sang the lyrics to the song “Happy Talk,” also from South Pacific: “Happy talk, keep talking happy talk, talk about things you’d like to do, you gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”

Members of the Chorale were honored to return to the stage in February 2017 to sing for Kay’s memorial service.

And now, we can only imagine the thrill it would have been for Kay to know that eight years later, the first Choral Festival would be named for her, with “Carmina Burana” as the closing act. Vashon Center for the Arts is already planning the second annual Choral Festival for spring 2025.

While most choral festivals happen over a day or two, with many choirs singing one right after another, the Kay White Choral Festival begins on Tuesday, April 23, and ends on Sunday, April 28. Each group has its own hour-long concert. Many types of music will be represented, and each ensemble offers its unique voice for a diverse musical experience.

Please join us to hear so many voices lifted in joyful song.

Jo Ann Bardeen is the president of Vashon Island Chorale.