WALLA WALLA -- The audience at Quail Run Retirement Center last week couldn't help but hear Ken Steinhorst's confident voice as the CAC Men's Choir presented "Silent Night."
As his baritone laid a solid foundation, the other seven singers united in a sweet harmony that rose up and expanded, filling the generous dining hall with "... all is calm, all is bright. ..."
Some listeners closed their eyes and smiled softly, while here and there a foot kept time.
Singing during the holiday is in his blood, Steinhorst explained. "I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, I graduated from the Auburn Adventist Academy ... we caroled every Christmas."
This year is no different, even if Steinhorst is living at the Christian Aid Center while waiting for a better turn of events in his life.
Originally from Tacoma, Steinhorst likes to "spice up" whatever's going on, he said with a laugh. Which led him to gently poke some fun at the singing during a worship service at the shelter for homeless men and families a few weeks back.
"I stopped and listened in the middle of the song and it was so bad. At the end of the song I said, 'Man, we need to be recording,' and everyone cracked up."
But the jesting comment struck a spark, and the next day the shelter resident approached management about starting a caroling crew. Not only did Steinhorst get a green -- but cautious -- light, Executive Director Jason Wicklund was "tickled," Steinhorst recalled. "They told me this place has been here since the '30s or '40s and there has never been a caroling group."
There is this year.
It took some patience and forgiving eardrums, but the singers stuck to rehearsing and refining their presentation with the help of Diane Ashley, who is working at Christian Aid Center as a counseling intern, Steinhorst said. "We're kind of polished up now."
On their own, the men dug out red velvet bows normally used on the Christmas tree, to be put to use as their signature mark, Wicklund said. "Then Ken asked me if they could go out and get some gigs."
He didn't expect the project to go anywhere, he recalled, especially since the group sounded "pretty rough" at first.
To his surprise, the choir's first concert at Washington Odd Fellows Home brought accolades and an invitation to return.
This afternoon's performance began with the men gathered in prayer. With an "amen," Jeremy Reavis stepped to the microphone and offered praise to God.
"This is a special day," he added, smiling at his mother in the audience. "It's my mom's birthday. I've gone through some rough times and her turning her life over to God helped me turn my life over to God."
During the concert, which included classics such as "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Joy to the World," some of the artists shared their feelings about Christmas between songs.
"Thank you for letting us sing for you, said Marvin Hoskins with a warm smile. "I just love the holidays."
The eight singers range in age from their mid-20s to mid-50s, Steinhorst said, and all have a story of how they came to be at the homeless shelter.
"This year something brought me to Christian Aid Center, like a calling," guitar player John Tewey said in his turn at the mike. "I was going to leave town, but something stopped me. I met a great group of people. Merry Christmas."
As the concert came to a close, Reavis dashed out of the dining room. The choir proceeded without him, launching into "Happy Birthday to You." In a minute, the young man returned, bearing a birthday cake and handing it gently to his mom, who wiped her eyes with one hand.
Then it was time to go home to the shelter on Birch Street, put away their red bow ties and start rehearsing for the next concert.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322.
Hear Them Live
The CAC Men's Choir will perform at the following locations:
Friday -- 11:30 a.m. at Wheatland Village, 1500 Catherine St., and 1:20 p.m. at Washington Odd Fellows Home, 534 Boyer Ave.
Saturday -- 10:45 a.m. at City Church, 2133 S. Howard St., and 5:15 p.m., Christian Aid Center dining hall, 202 W. Birch St.
Sunday -- 10:15 a.m. at Amazing Grace Church, 717 E. Alder St.