1976 - 2006 "The idea for a choir was hatched over a card table by a few friends," is how an early description of Issaquah Singers begins. Founders Dan and Fran Pope had recently moved to Issaquah, Washington from Ohio where they had been members of a choir at Wesley University. Public service announcements were published in the Issaquah Press and the choir was launched. The choir was originally called Issaquah Chorale. The name was changed a few years later to Issaquah Singers in an attempt to appeal to a broader range of singers. The group rehearsed at Issaquah High School's music room. Later rehearsals were held in the Pope home. Fran also founded St. Michael's Music Academy. Later rehearsals were held in accompanist Pearl Nelson's home, member Mary Giberson's home, Eastside High School and currently rehearsals are held weekly at the Community Church of Issaquah.
From the beginning no auditions were required. Anyone who wanted to sing with the group was welcomed. All participants, including the director and accompanist, were volunteers. No one was paid for their participation in the choir. The joy and love of creating music was at the heart of every gathering. These hallmarks still guide the group today.
Issaquah Singers sings at civic events and senior living centers without charge. Songs that are familiar to those in senior living centers are the mainstay of the choir's repertoire; however, songs from any era and source are possibilities. Their audiences are always appreciative to hear "the good ol' songs."
The choir's motto in recent years, "Music is too important to be left to the professionals," was coined by Rev. Robert Fulghum in his book "It was on Fire When I Lay Down Beside It."
1976 - 1978
Norma Jean Sander says she fell into the role as the group's first director because at the time, she was the only one in the choir who could read music except the accompanist, Dorothy Singletary. She was described by members as being "a kick, a lot of fun."
Norma directed the choir for their first big concert in 1979 when the choir joined voices with the Shoreline Community College Chorus, directed by Robert Metzger, to perform of Carmen Burana at Meany Hall on the campus of the University of Washington and at Lindberg High School in Renton. About 80 voices participated, 20 of them from Issaquah Chorale, the first name of the choir. Two performances were held, one at Lindbergh High School in Renton and at University of Washington's Meany hall. Charter member Steve Kipper told Norma after the concert that it was "the most fun thing he had ever done."
Norma studied music at Eastern Washington University for two and a half years. She has played clarinet for Village Theater for years and currently plays clarinet in the Bellevue Community Band. Her fondest memory of Issaquah Singers is the night that the accompanist, Dorothy Singletary, almost fell asleep at the piano.
1978 - 1979
Lois Peterson (deceased), the next director, was the choir director at the Episcopalian Church in Issaquah. Members Renee Van Sompele and Dan Pope had taken lessons from Lois and recruited her to take over the direction of the choir.
Mary Ann Sanders stepped in and helped out as an interim director of Issaquah Singers in the late 1970's for a few weeks until a permanent director could be located. At the time she was the choir director and taught history at Issaquah Middle School and was asked by charter member Steve Kipper if she would come lead the group. Because of her busy teaching schedule, she did not want to take the group on permanently but was willing to fill in. She describes herself as an "itinerant substitute." During her tenure, Mary Ann loaned the group music from Issaquah Middle School.
1979 - 1987
Cynthia Erickson directed the Issaquah Singers for eight years from 1979 to 1987. She had directed church choirs previously and was involved with music through the Vasa organization. The principal of O'Dell Junior High in Bellevue asked her to take over as director of the Issaquah Singers. He did not sing with the group, but his wife was a member at the time. It was during Cynthia's reign that the name was changed from Issaquah Chorale to Issaquah Singers as the music being sung was from the popular venue and Issaquah Chorale sounded too formal for the group. The group sang popular, folk, patriotic & anything that was positive and uplifting. In Cynthia's second year the group started rehearsing at Pearl Nelson's home.
In those days Johnson West Music store used to lay out music and choir directors could come in and take as much as they wanted. Johnson West also hosted sight singing sessions to review new music to directors. Cynthia attended a weekend of sight singing new music that was held by Johnson West at Mt. Vernon Community Center for choir directors.
During Cynthia's time as director the group sang at Seattle Center at Christmas time for several years, performed in the Salmon Days parade on a flatbed truck and sold pie pieces as a fund raiser at Salmon Days.
Cynthia took voice lessons in high school for a short time and as an adult she took lessons for five years from Lee Wicker of Bellevue who had sung with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera. Lee and Cynthia became friends and Cynthia acquired much of Lee's music. Cynthia also had taken piano lessons as a child but mostly taught herself to play once she had learned the basics from a teacher. Music was always most important in her family. She and her sister used to sing duets. This past winter Cynthia was giving group and individual voice lessons in Arizona. She and her husband, John, were manufacturer's representatives for many years until their retirement a few years ago. They live in Arizona in the winter and Issaquah in the summer.
1987 to present
Dorothy Hay came to a rehearsal in April knowing that it was the last rehearsal before Saturday concerts where the regular accompanist, Pearl Nelson, could not be present. The group was trying to use a tape of the accompaniment and that was not going well, so Dorothy stepped in and played piano for the rehearsal and for the concert the following Saturday. She sang as a soprano in the group for the rest of that year.
The following fall the members gathered for the first rehearsal of the season. When the director, Cynthia Erickson did not arrive at the rehearsal, Pearl Nelson announced that Cynthia Erickson, had resigned due to increasing commitments in her life. Someone asked, "Where will we find another director?" Member Joan Mcdonald had talked with Dorothy at the summer camp out and knew that Dorothy had directed choirs previously. Joan answered that she knew where and just looked at Dorothy. Dorothy stood up that evening and directed a rehearsal without any preparation. Who knew that 19 years later she would still be learning and growing from the musical experiences with Issaquah Singers?
Dorothy first started singing in her church choir in elementary school and sang with church choirs until she graduated from high school. She was also a church organist during high school. In junior and senior high school she accompanied the school choirs. She also played percussion in her high school band. Dorothy holds a Bachelors Degree with a double major in Music and Education and a focus in choral conducting. She also holds a Masters of Education in School Counseling. She has directed two church choirs and a hand bell choir prior to directing Issaquah Singers.
Members who have filled for directors in their absence have been Dan Pope, Dorothy Singletary, Dick Rolla, Don Cartlidge, and John Thomas.
Dorothy Singletary was the first accompanist for the choir. She had an affinity for instilling musicianship in young people to whom she taught private lessons. She was friends with the conductor of the Seattle Symphony who, with other area musicians, used to get together every Friday night at Dorothy's home to create music together, sometimes singing or playing old standards, at other times improvising or performing newly written pieces for each other. She was the first accompanist for many years, then sang tenor for several more years. Even in her later years she continues her creativity by writing poetry and was proud to have her poetry displayed on placards on King County Metro Busses.
For the fun of it Dorothy Singletary used to volunteer to sort and file music at Shorey's Music Store in Seattle. In return she was occasionally given copies of choral arrangements. When music was being discarded, she was allowed to take what she wanted and the choir's music files grew a great deal during this time.
Pearl Nelson was the accompanist in the 1980's. She was a member of the Seattle Organ Guild and in addition to her piano, had a Rogers organ with three ranks and full pedals in her music room. The group rehearsed at her home for many years and was endeared to her sense of humor. At Halloween she always dressed up as a witch and refused to speak---only cackled and laughed in response to all questions. She was an active member in the Rhododendron Society and a Master Gardner.
Susan Lord first substituted for Pearl Nelson during a brief illness. Susan was the next door neighbor of member Anne Marie McCarty and has played for churches and church choirs. The following year in 1994 when Pearl was unable to continue as accompanist, Susan stepped in as her replacement. Susan is an outstanding pianist with uncanny sense of expression and rhythm. She always has a smile and positive attitude. One of her legacies to Issaquah Singers is that her Issaquah Singers pencil changed her life. She has changed greatly all for the good and in the years that she has shared her musical talents with Issaquah Singers. Her daughter Katie Lord turned pages for her mom at concerts from the time she was a pre-teen.
We have been blessed over the years to have had such great members, directors and accompanists who volunteer their time and talents to make Issaquah Singers possible.
For Halloween members used to dress up in costume for rehearsals. Halloween of 1986 Dick Rolla waited until after rehearsal had begin, then surprised the choir at the floor to ceiling windows of the rehearsal room at Pearl Nelson's home in his Sasquatch costume! Members who were there, talked for years about how realistic he looked and how startled they were to see this hairy creature staring at them through the glass.
Myrna saw a notice in the Issaquah Press and joined that year as she was home with her children at the time and looking for an adult activity for herself.
The choir went to Penrose Sate Park for summer picnics for a time. Since 1986 the group has gone to Myrna's cabin near Crystal Mountain for a weekend mountain music retreat.
Myrna served on the board for many years as the self-described "sexitary" for the choir and she continued to do so on the condition that she would not take notes of meetings or send letters for the choir.
One year Myrna invited the choir to her new home for the Christmas party. She printed up copies of driving directions on how to get to her home in Auburn. That night it was very foggy and hard to see beyond the headlights of the car. Members carefully followed her directions step by step and ended up in a neighborhood nowhere near her home. They finally had to stop and call Myrna and get rerouted. (This was before we had cell phones.) We arrived at Myrna's house to find very few choir members had made it there yet. The phone would ring periodically as others gave up and had to be guided to Myrna's home. Those directions were absolutely correct except that one critical turn had been left out! Myrna was teased about that for years!
Every year we go to Myrna's cabin in the mountains near Crystal Mountain for a weekend retreat. The custom is to meet at McDonald's or Taco Time restaurants in Enumclaw for dinner, then caravan up to the cabin with Myrna leading the pack. By the time we arrive it is dark and every year, Myrna drives right by the driveway to the cabin because it is too hard to spot in the dark. The next driveway about a mile beyond the cabin driveway is the driveway into Crystal Village, a cluster of rental cabins. The caravan pulls in and turns around in their cul de sac and returns to the correct driveway to the cabin. For years and years this has been the practice, so much so that it is practically written into the directions to go beyond, turn around and come back! Several years ago Dorothy and Allan learned that the son of a former boss was working as the manager for the cabins. "Oh, yes, we know right where those cabins are; we turn around in your driveway every summer!" The reply: "We always wondered what that group was doing! Thanks for the explanation!"
One summer we arrived at the cabin and the lock on the gate had been changed due to some break ins. Luckily John Thomas happened to have a bolt cutter with him and was able to cut the lock off so we could get in. Another trip, the keys to the cabin had been changed, again, due to break-ins, so a small window in the back door was broken to gain access. We have plugged up the toilet there more than once. We have always sung and filled the cabin with great music accompanied on the keyboard and/or guitars.
Between September and May Issaquah Singers performs at two senior living centers about every six or seven weeks. The group also sings at civic events and for community service organizations upon request. All concerts include a sing-along and there is no charge for performances. Occasionally groups make a donation to the Issaquah Singers' treasury and the money is used to purchase new music and pay for rehearsal space.
Some of the appearances the group has made include singing on a flat bed truck in the Issaquah Salmon Day's parade. One year they sold pieces of homemade pies at Salmon Days as a fund raiser. The following year they decided they really should get a health permit before doing it again!
Over the years the choir performed Christmas songs at Bellevue Old Town in the then "new" mall, at Gilman Village, at the City of Issaquah holiday employee dinner, at Costco employees holiday shopping evening, at Trader Joe's and Barnes and Noble. The group has sung several times at the City of Issaquah tree lighting at the train depot. For the Issaquah Centennial in 1988 the group dressed in period costume and sang songs from the 1880 and 1890's. For the opening day of the Historical Train Society's summer train route from Snoqualmie Falls to North Bend, the choir sang railroad songs at the Snoqualmie Depot. The choir sang at the northwest regional unicycle competition opening ceremonies in North Bend.
Other appearances include Issaquah tree lighting ceremonies, Issaquah Saturday markets at Pickering Barn, Issaquah City employees holiday dinner, Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank volunteer dinner, Women's League holiday dinner, Issaquah Women's Club, Issaquah Grange Annual Meeting and others. During the time director Dorothy Hay was on the Educational Advisory Board for the Experience Music Project, the group sang a Sunday concert at the EMP.
On September 11, 2003 Issaquah Singers hosted a community sing-along on the two-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, NY. The evening was dedicated to the memory of those who had fallen and in support of those who fight to protect our freedoms and those who provide emergency services to those in need. It was a moving event, well attended by the community.
For the 2004/05 year the choir sang rain and sunshine songs in preparation for the "Come Rain or Come Shine" concert in June 2005. Dorothy Hay suggested to the City of Seattle Cedar River Watershed Education Center outside of North Bend that we sing for their first Saturday opening of the year in May of 2005. As a result, they put together a whole day of related activities around the idea to sing rain and sunshine songs at their Education Center.
Issaquah Singers were involved in a different type of community outreach project in November 2005 when they joined forces with the Sammamish Symphony Orchestra, directed by R. Joseph Scott, and the Issaquah Chorale, directed by Linda Gingrich, at Skyline High School to raise funds for the Issaquah Katrina Relief Fund. $2400 was raised toward relief efforts.
In 1998 it was felt that by the end of every concert season we learn a great deal of music and we wanted to share it with our families and friends who may not have heard us perform at our concerts throughout the year at nursing homes and civic events. So the choir started having end of the year concerts to showcase our work and to let our families and friends know how much we appreciated their support. After a few years we opened the concerts to the community but the majority of the concert goers continue to be family and friends of the members.
This accounting of Issaquah Singers was written by Dorothy Hay from her own experiences with Issaquah Singers and based on interviews with Cynthia Erickson, Myrna Ostrem, Fran Pope, Dick and Norma Rolla, Mary Ann Sanders, Norma Jean Sander and Dorothy Singletary. Additional pieces of history or corrections to this accounting should be forwarded to Dorothy Hay at