Wild Rose Chorale celebrates 30 years of a cappella

Lynn Nowak
Posted 6/17/22

a cap·​pel·​la | \ ˌä-kə-ˈpe-lə  \variants: or less commonly a capellaDefinition of a cappella: without instrumental accompanimentThe choir sang the chants a …

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Wild Rose Chorale celebrates 30 years of a cappella


a cap·​pel·​la | \ ˌä-kə-ˈpe-lə  \
variants: or less commonly a capella
Definition of a cappella: without instrumental accompaniment
The choir sang the chants a cappella.

Which is what the Wild Rose Chorale of Port Townsend has been doing for 30 years.

But its members say that it’s so much more. 

“A cappella singing can be challenging, especially with its tight harmonies and seemingly dissonant chords – all without instrumental support. But the outcome is that much more rewarding,” said tenor Steve Duniho. 

“When it comes together, it’s magical and emotional,” Duniho added.

The ensemble celebrates the milestone anniversary with a pair of in-person concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17 and
2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 19 at Grace Lutheran Church, 1120 Walker St., Port Townsend. 

Tickets are a $20 suggested donation at the door. COVID safety protocols will be observed; audience members will be required to show proof of vaccination and remain masked during the program.

Director and soprano Leslie Lewis said it’s exciting to be singing spring concerts again after two years of disruption due to the pandemic. 

Even though health precautions will be part of singers’ lives for a while to come, “at least we’re singing again.”

“There’s just no satisfactory electronic substitute for live music – for us singers or for our audience,” she added.

Duniho continued with more thoughts about a cappella singing: “It brings us in touch with our most basic musical identity.”

“I believe that it was our first form of human music before we even started fashioning instruments,” he said.

Longtime member and bass Al Thompson went a step further, calling a cappella vocal music one of the purest natural art forms. 

Thompson and three other members have logged 20 years or more with the ensemble, some nearing the 30-year mark.

“I attribute our longevity to the fact that most of our members realize that we have something special going on here, and they value their membership with the group,” Lewis said. “They want to be part of something challenging and good.”

Tenor Chuck Helman agreed.

“After singing with the group for 28 years, I still think it’s a gift,” Helman said.

Helman said when he started, he didn’t know how much he needed Wild Rose, but the singing and the camaraderie filled an emptiness, and now he calls its members his second family.

To commemorate so many years of singing, the singers will present a handful of favorite songs from the past in their upcoming concerts. 

When they started brainstorming ideas for the season, many of the pieces were from movies and Broadway musicals. 

Lewis said it was a “no-brainer” to include them in a set of songs from stage and screen, including two by Stephen Sondheim as a nod to his recent death and to commemorate his immense contribution to musical theater.

“Along with the old favorites, we are including some compositions that speak to current world concerns, including ‘Ukrainian Alleluia,’ as well as some wonderful new, up-tempo celebratory songs,” Lewis said. 

Two examples are “Take On Me,” popularized by the group A-ha, and “This Is Me,” sometimes described as a fight song for the underdog, from the movie musical, “The Greatest Showman.” 

The group was formed in 1992 to help commemorate the opening of the Rose Theatre. No founding members remain in its present incarnation, although one current singer joined later that year. 

The membership has seen considerable changes. 

The roster has included more than 40 people in total, and at any given time, membership has ranged from seven to 12 singers. 

Wild Rose has presented its own community concerts, hosted other music groups in its popular holiday Wild Rose & Friends concerts; caroled for Main Street and Santa’s arrival in December; entertained at private parties and for service groups; and sung for weddings, funerals, and other life events.

A number of factors have contributed to the enduring tenure of Wild Rose Chorale, according to its members. Singers always look for arrangements that are beautiful, challenging, moving, exciting, or life-affirming, often focusing on pop songs from many eras, but never limiting themselves to one genre. Ballads, folk songs, jazz tunes, or even a classical instrumental piece are all suitable song fodder.

Lewis said favorite memories over her own 27 years include laughing together during rehearsal, crafting quality concerts together year after year, and sharing good times and bad with fellow Rosers. 

“Oh, and then there was the time that Lynn Nowak accidentally dropped her kazoo into the toilet at Turtle Bluff!

“Personally, I find it so fulfilling to sing my heart out with this group of people,” Lewis added. “Not only do we love and trust each other, but we share our life experiences and revel in the beautiful sounds we make together. OK, not every sound is beautiful, but that’s when we enjoy that riotous laughter!”

Besides being proud of the lasting nature of the group, the singers are pleased to help foster young people in their musical pursuits, often offering an internship to promising young choristers, and also, for several years, awarding scholarships to deserving high school seniors and college-age students. 

After a scholarship hiatus in 2021, this year the group is delighted to award a $2,000 scholarship each to two of its own, Eugenia and Viola Phillips Frank, seniors and top scholars in the Pi Program at Chimacum High School. 

Choir students of Lewis’ in the Port Townsend Youth Chorus and the PT Vocal Ensemble, the twins participated in Wild Rose & Friends holiday concerts for many years, then assisted as interns in 2019 and for a holiday Candlelight Concert in 2021. They transitioned to “honorary members” this year in preparation for the current concerts.

Helman said he’s glad that the group does something meaningful for kids because he remembers how important it was to have a singing mentor when he was young. He hopes that the students will look back and remember the music, the camaraderie, and the fun.

“We’ve seen the popularity of a cappella singing surge nationwide in recent years, and we’re doing our best to help it continue,” Thompson said.

“I know a cappella has grown leaps and bounds since we started. There are so many more arrangements to choose from. Maybe that’s part of why we’re still able to perform,” Helman added. “There’s music out there that makes me laugh and makes me cry. When we perform a song and I look out at the audience and I see real emotions on their faces, that’s when I know I’ve done my job. That’s what brings me back.”

For information about Wild Rose Chorale, visit wildrosechorale.org, contact wildrosechorale@gmail.com or 360-385-1402, or like the group on Facebook.


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