Walla Walla Choral Society Sings “Peace and Goodwill”

Renny Acheson, Staff Reporter

On Nov. 26 and 27, the Walla Walla Choral Society commenced its 39th season with a holiday-themed concert “Peace and Goodwill.” Using the Gesa Power House Theatre as the venue, the event featured the Sharpstein Elementary choir along with a string trio composed of a violinist, a violist and Whitman cello studio music instructor Sally Singer Tuttle.

Originally formed as the Walla Walla Choral Union in June 1905, the group was founded with the goal of honoring choral music. The ensemble formally became the Walla Walla Choral Society in 1992, and now contains the voices of 85 members of the community with the piano accompaniment of Jan Roberts.

The program featured a blend of well-known Christmas carols and less familiar pieces centering around the themes of charity, harmony, family and unity. While some works were comprised of upbeat and festive tones, others assumed a more meditative and introspective mood. In the program, artistic director and conductor Gary L. Hemenway writes on how the concert “embraces beauty through the melodies and lyrics and explores the title themes in short works of poetry and prose.”

Between pieces, Hemenway read multiple works of poetry, including Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” and Kenneth Snow’s “Peace for Christmas.” The subject matter of the poems accentuated the music as they addressed tranquility and compassion both in the context of the winter holidays and otherwise.

“Peace and Goodwill” brought voices of all ages in the Walla Walla community together. The first half of the show highlighted the music of the Choral Society, composed of adults who reside in the Walla Walla Valley. After a brief intermission, the show continued with carols sung by the 46 voices of the Sharpstein Elementary School Choir under the directive leadership of Lori Parnicky. The voices of the youth of Walla Walla reverberated throughout the venue, providing a beautiful juxtaposition next to those of older residents, as they sang songs among the likes of Teresa Jennings’ “I Feel Like Fa La La La” and the traditional “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”  

The final piece, “Night of Silence,” included both groups, with the Choral Society on stage singing Dan Kantor’s 1981 composition intertwined with the Sharpstein Elementary singers on the sides of the audience performing “Silent Night” and holding candles. Hemenway invited the audience to join in the Christmas carol during the final verse, creating a rich sound that filled the Gesa Power House Theatre.

“Peace and Goodwill” provided an essential reminder that music can be a fantastic source of relaxation during this chaotic time of year. Whether the audience members of the two sold-out shows were Whitman students or not, the choruses nourished the souls of all in attendance and set the tone for a safe and happy holiday season.