Orcas Choral Society celebrates 40 years

It was a dark December night in 1977 when a group of people gathered for the first time to share their love of music and form the Orcas Choral Society.

Flash forward to spring 2018 and the group is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary on May 3, 5 and 6, with a lecture, film and special concert.

“There was no choir that answered community needs – for a group that would sing songs of universal appeal,” said Catherine Pederson, co-founder and former director. “We performed a concert that first spring. It was performed in the Orcas [school’s] old gym, and for risers we used the old wooden bleachers. It was a good choir, to begin with. There were good singers who worked hard, and we sang good music always of varied styles.”

The Orcas Choral Society is a choir formed by Pederson and Louellen McCoy when they noticed there was no existing community choir on Orcas. The group performed a variety of music over the past four decades that Pederson said reflects the island culture. Over the years, the choral society evolved, performing folk music, songs from different cultures and even an operetta by composers Gilbert and Sullivan.

This year’s choir has 62 active members with 58 singers performing in May’s concerts. Overall, more than 400 performers have sung in the choral society. The group has one remaining member from its inception: Stan Miller. The singers meet every Tuesday. In 2002, 16 members of the choral society were invited to perform “Celtic Mass for the Sea” at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The choir was the first in the United States to perform the piece, according to Pederson.

For 33 years, Pederson was the artistic director and conductor for the choral society. When she gave up the reins, she handed them to Roger Sherman, who led the choral society for six years. Upon Sherman’s retirement, Marianne Lewis took over and remains the choral society’s artistic director and composer to this day.

“I have always loved choral music and have been involved with choirs since high school. I have participated both as an accompanist and a director, and when I had the opportunity to be the interim artistic director, following Roger Sherman, I decided to give it a try,” Lewis said. “I really enjoyed that year, and when offered the position, I was delighted to accept.”

The festivities begin at 5 p.m., Thursday, May 3, with an opportunity to meet composer Lauridsen at Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Hall. The free event will also feature the film “Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen.” The concert, titled “Light,” is 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 5, and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 6, at Orcas Center. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students, and are available at the Orcas Center box office or online. For more information, call 360-376-2281 or visit www.orcascenter.org.

“All of the music is very beautiful and we are particularly excited about singing the music of Morten Lauridsen,” Lewis said. “His music has a way of touching your soul and becoming a part of you. I think it will be very appealing to everyone.”

The visit to Orcas Island is a short trip for Lauridsen, who spends his summers on Waldron and San Juan. The concert will feature three of his works, and then he will talk about his music and life in the islands before a screening of the film.

“I feel very lucky to be part of this wonderful, dedicated group of singers,” Lewis said. “I am really excited about this concert.”