Wild Rose celebrates 25

Lynn Nowak, Contributor
Posted 5/30/17

“Plunk, plunk, plunk. Bid-l-id-l-up-pah-pah-pah. Tiddle-ee-poo!”

They might be nonsense lyrics, but the sound effects generated from syllables such as these also typify modern a cappella …

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Wild Rose celebrates 25

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“Plunk, plunk, plunk. Bid-l-id-l-up-pah-pah-pah. Tiddle-ee-poo!”

They might be nonsense lyrics, but the sound effects generated from syllables such as these also typify modern a cappella choral arrangements, in which voices become the bass drum in a band, the saxophone in a jazz combo or even strings in the orchestra.

Singers pack their instruments with them. Voices are always at the ready for breaking into song. Making music is even more convenient for a cappella vocalists. They need no other instruments. The singers themselves establish the beat, and, when working together in a choir, create interlacing harmonies to support or enhance a melody.

Since 1992, the Wild Rose Chorale has continuously sung – mostly a cappella – a full repertoire of jazz, pop, folk, show tunes and even rock ’n’ roll. And through it all, its members have had a rollicking good time doing it. Among Wild Rose’s trademarks are playful, often wacky novelty tunes in addition to songs with lush, lovely harmonies.

The Port Townsend ensemble celebrates 25 years with two anniversary concerts, Friday-Saturday, June 2-3, both at 7:30 p.m. at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 2333 San Juan Ave., Port Townsend.

‘WORTH CELEBRATING’

“Twenty-five years is a long time. It’s worth celebrating,” said Leslie Lewis, a soprano and the group’s director.

The Wild Rose Chorale was founded in 1992 to commemorate the opening of The Rose Theatre. Over the chorale’s quarter century, about 46 men and women have participated in the group – some for years at a time. At least five directors have lent their choral experience and leadership. The ensemble has numbered as many as a dozen voices at one time; currently, it consists of eight singers.

It has entertained at private gatherings in Jefferson County and beyond, caroled for the Main Street program at the tree-lighting ceremony during the holidays, hosted a “Wild Rose & Friends” program during the holidays, occasionally delivered singing valentines, produced its own annual program and once even entered an a cappella contest in Olympia.

“I think that the 25th anniversary is significant in that seldom does a group survive that long, particular one in a small town such as ours,” said longtime bass Al Thompson.

Port Townsend and East Jefferson County support a bountiful choral community, with ample opportunities for singers to find just the right niche to suit their individual interests or abilities. “But, we’re the only small, auditioned vocal ensemble that sings almost entirely a cappella,” Lewis noted.

“We’re lucky here in Port Townsend to have such a rich and varied array of music groups,” said Marj Iuro, a soprano who likes to switch it up occasionally and sing alto or tenor.

Four of the current eight members have sung with the Wild Rose Chorale for 20 years or more, a testament to the group’s longevity and continuity amid changes in personnel, and shifts and trends in a cappella music itself.

“That’s nearly a century of experience between the four of them,” remarked alto JES Schumacher.

The most senior members are Lynn Nowak, Charles Helman, Lewis and Iuro. Thompson, Schumacher and Brian Goldstein are also veterans, with Doug Rodgers providing the fresh face, although he has a strong choral background.

GROWING IN POPULARITY

It’s been around for a long time, of course, but “a cappella music has been growing in popularity for the last 20 years,” perhaps particularly at colleges and universities, Lewis said. The youthful, trending group Pentatonix and other ensembles such as The Real Group and Straight No Chaser have recently contributed toward a resurgence in the popularity of a cappella singing.

Without instrumental help, a cappella singers can feel musically exposed. There’s nowhere to take cover. “Singing with seven other voices encourages precision and dedication. There is no one to hide behind,” Schumacher said.

“I love the challenge of our music,” Lewis said. “It’s not easy, but it’s tasty.”

Thompson added, “It’s so much fun to sing in intricate harmony with all of us on our own parts.” It’s tricky – and stirring, he said.

Wild Rose has always sought quality arrangements. The principal criteria for selecting music is not whether the piece is from a particular musical genre. Rather, is it an unusual, interesting or complex? Is it upbeat and lighthearted? Or, does its harmonies elicit an emotional response?

Audiences should recognize plenty of songs in the anniversary program. Included are old favorites from years past, including “Singin’ in the Rain,” the jazz classic “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” which, when sung a cappella in a King’s Singers arrangement, calls for some quirky sounds and body percussion.

Since they always seek fresh material, the singers also tackle new numbers, including the Overture to “The Barber of Seville,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” sung Pentatonix style, and the snappy “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

SWEET SURPRISES

“It’s a sweet surprise for audience members to hear a song they recognize that was made famous by a band, but with a twist,” Schumacher said. These concerts include numbers by ABBA and The Beatles.

Lewis said she can’t pick a favorite song. “I like them all because I enjoy singing with other skilled musicians who have enough awareness of self and others to blend and balance.

“When we are rehearsing and the song is coming together, it’s magic! Especially now that we’ve been together for so long, even with the occasional personnel change, we still seem to find our sound.”

Over the years, the Wild Rose Chorale has established itself as a player in the local choral landscape, which includes choirs of many stripes.

“That’s what is so exciting. There’s room for all different types of music,” said Iuro. “People in this town love listening to music, so everyone gets an audience.

“But,” continued Iuro, “if you haven’t heard us, you should come to this 25th-anniversary event and see and hear what you’ve been missing!”

(Lynn Nowak is a member of the Wild Rose Chorale and a former Leader reporter and copy editor.)

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