Arts and Entertainment

Singers return to Edens

For the 30th anniversary year of the Bainbridge Chorale, the group takes a big step forward – and a fond look back.

Its upcoming programming is ambitious: the holiday concerts on Dec. 2, 8, and 9 feature Felix Mendelssohn’s “Song of Praise,” led by the Chorale’s current music director, Anthony Spain.

In the spring, the Chorale swells to 250 voices to tackle Mahler’s Second Symphony, which the group will perform on Bainbridge and at Benaroya Hall.

As the Chorale gets ready for these musical challenges, however, it is also taking time to remember its history.

Central to that history is former director and founding member Norma Edens, who returns to conduct one of several carols on Sunday’s concert.

Edens, who led the group for 16 years, remembers the Chorale’s beginnings. In 1971, Gloria Goller hosted a meeting attended by Gloria Brownell and the late Jody Ellsworth, among others.

“A group of people decided there was a lot of talent on the island,” Edens said. “We wanted to sing.

“We had no idea that it would continue on.”

From the start, Eden says, the founders were interested in a combination of personal growth and civic-mindedness, ramping up their skills to better offer music to the community.

Edens, who had been a piano performance major at Washington State University and before that a vocal major at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., replaced first Chorale director David Pence in 1981.

There were only 30 or 40 voices in those days, Edens says. The group grew in size and skill under Edens’ tutelage.

“I’ve always loved rehearsals,” Edens said. “I love the working process, seeing the music come together – more than performing, I sometimes think.”

By the time Edens left in 1997, the group topped 100 voices.

Edens said, “Many people came there as a refuge; some came because they loved to sing; some joined to learn to sing. You probably had as many different reasons as you did people.”

Edens notes that knowing her singers well was key to her directorial style.

“I can’t make music with people I don’t know and find joy with. There’s got be a connection. People’s lives became very intertwined. We all grew older together.”

Despite her attachment to the Chorale, by the mid 1990s, Edens began to feel that it might be time to relinquish the baton.

“It was very demanding,” Edens, who also conducts the Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church choir, says. “I had tried to resign the year before, but was encouraged to stay. But by the next year, I knew it was time to give up Chorale or the church choir – and I couldn’t quite let go of the choir.”

For Edens, whose directorial style embraced warm friendships with many of the chorale members, and who had presided over the group’s “growing up,” letting go was not easy.

It was good to have someone really different come in,” Edens said. “After being there for so long, there were going to be comparisons. But since Anthony was off-island – and a man – there really couldn’t be many comparisons, and that was good.”

Edens says that she completed her own personal letting-go by avoiding Chorale concerts for several years. Edens noted that while Spain had mentioned a guest appearance to her a few years ago, she had been in no rush.

“I can come back now, because the letting-go is done,” Edens says. “Now, there’s a real enjoyment in coming back.

“This year, the 30th anniversary, seemed a good year for it to happen.”

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