Voices sought for community chorus’ winter season

— Created August 30, 2023 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Anyone who can carry a tune and knows a few basics about reading music is encouraged to lend their voice to Whidbey Community Chorus for its winter season.

Registration will be held Sept. 10 and 17 for December performances and new members are encouraged to show up about 4:15 p.m. on either day at First United Methodist Church in Oak Harbor. Returning chorus members who have participated within the past four or five years may arrive between 4:30-4:45 p.m. for 5 p.m. rehearsal. Rehearsals will continue from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday evenings at FUMC until performances, which will be Dec. 7 and 8 at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor. Cost to participate in the season is $40 per person.

WCC choral director, Darren McCoy, said it’s important for those who have not participated before to arrive early.

Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Community Chorus
All those interested in joining the Whidbey Community Chorus for its winter season are asked to register either Sept. 10 or 17 to join rehearsals for the chorus’ December performances. Members should be able to carry a melody and while not required, some ability to read music is helpful. Whidbey Community Chorus has two sessions each year; the winter season typically features a holiday-themed performance in December and the spring season’s theme varies each year.

“Most people want to know if this is an audition,” he explained. “Since we are not testing your ability to read music, it is not an audition.  However, if a person cannot carry a melody, group singing in parts is going to be too much of a challenge. We call it a part test because many people aren’t really sure which part they should be in.”

McCoy said if people don’t have anything prepared to sing, he will have them sing “America, the Beautiful” or “Silent Night.” No one else is in the room and following that, members will pay their dues, get their music and proceed to rehearsal. All members must provide their own black binder for music.

Whidbey Community Chorus was started in 2002 by FUMC’s music director at the time, Chet Hansen, and has seen tremendous growth and community appreciation throughout the years, according to one of its charter members.

“[Chet Hansen] felt it would be a great community outreach and allow anyone who loved choral music an opportunity to sing,” shared Mary Morgan. “Since then the group has continued to grow from the 23 singers who first showed up and community reaction has been incredible – we always have a full house, and there are many who never miss a concert.”

Organizers are currently looking for about 80 voices to fill the chorus. In the past, McCoy said they had a waiting list, but COVID had a big impact on membership, which naturally ebbs and flows from season to season.

“Membership fluctuates and like Forest Gump says, ‘You never know what you’re gonna get,’” he said. “Usually, the winter session and December concert has more singers and larger audiences. Our last Christmas concert was practically standing room only and FRC is the biggest concert venue in town.  After lockdown, the public was ready to attend live events.” 

One of the best things about being part of Whidbey Community Chorus, according to McCoy, is that people of all skill levels are welcome to participate.

“I’m proud of how this group can continually challenge experienced singers while still including people who haven’t sung much in a choir,” he said. “It’s exciting to see a person join when they haven’t sung in a choir for decades. They get back on the proverbial bicycle and fit right in while exploring a wide variety of music.”

“What pleases me the most about what we’ve accomplished…is the fact that we have been able to accomplish our mission to provide Whidbey Island singers with an ever-evolving opportunity to perform and to promote public interest in live music for the past 20 years,” said Morgan. “And we’re still going strong.”

According to McCoy, the diversity of experience among WCC members also helps make the group stronger.

“I love the energy that comes from such a diverse group,” he said, mentioning a couple of chorus members by name. “People like Ellen Walton have performed all over the place for many years and will bring me information like Latin translations, which helps with rehearsal. Then you have someone like Makayla Rossi, who was my student and is continuing to sing while pursuing her career. And then others who haven’t sung in 30-plus years but want to explore music again. I love how music brings all these people together with a common goal.  I think it embodies what we need right now as people and as a country.”

McCoy, who is also the choral director for Oak Harbor High School, said the community chorus can also provide important lessons to younger generations.

“I enjoy bringing my students to perform with WCC,” he shared. “Due again to COVID, OHHS has not performed with WCC since 2019 and I’m excited to bring them back. High schoolers tend to think that they won’t be able to sing after [completing] school. Joining with WCC shows that music is a lifelong pursuit. You can sing your whole life and it doesn’t have to stop when you graduate.”

Whidbey Community Chorus is also looking for people in the community with musical talent other than their voices. Organizers are looking to expand instrumentally.

 “Last year I teamed up with Sebastian Serrano-Ayala and he pulled together a small chamber ensemble that accompanied [the chorus on] a few songs,” said McCoy. “The instruments pulled out more nuances in the music, especially if the piece was intended to be performed with more than a piano. I got to thinking about how wonderful this could be if we continued to develop the instrumental portion of the concert.  Sebastian and Dana Carnes told me that there is interest in the community if I wanted to pursue making this a more permanent part of WCC. Dana is now a board member and will be working closely with Sebastian and myself to forge a path.”

Anyone interested in the WCC orchestra program can contact McCoy at dmccoy@ohsd.net. For those seeking more information on the community chorus in general, visit whidbeycommunitychorus.org. WCC concerts are free to attend, although donations are welcome. Those interested in sponsoring particular songs can also contact McCoy via email.

“This is not just a chorus, it is a community, a commitment, a family of like-minded folks with the ability and desire to make beautiful music,” Morgan said. “Come to sing, have some fun and make new friends!”