Tri-Cities vocal group to perform silver anniversary concert

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Raffa, center, conducts performers in rehearsal at Walla Walla University Church.

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Justin Raffa the Conductor and Artistic Director of the Mid-Colombia Master Singer's Production of "Song of The Saints" conducts his musicians.

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Soloist Laura Pattillo rehearses with the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers.

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Members of the choir of the Mid-Colombia Mastersingers rehearse recently.

COLLEGE PLACE -- In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform "Songs of the Saints" here Sunday.

The concert, which will come after a Friday performance in Richland, will include well-known hymns and original pieces by composer-in-residence Reginald Unterseher.

Mastersingers is composed of more than 150 choral singers from the Tri-Cities areas, 30 of whom will be performing at the upcoming concerts.

"Our singers come from a variety of walks of life. Most of them have their own professional day jobs and do not make a living in music. Our singers bring a wide variety of experience to the group, with an age span of 40 years," said Justin Raffa, Mastersingers artistic director.

There are some songs in the concert that will allow the audience to sing along with the Mastersingers.

"This first concert promises to be an engaging, transformative artistic experience for our audience. The Britten piece we're performing includes two spots in which the audience sings along with the choir. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with organist Kraig Scott and present this incredible program to the Walla Walla community," Raffa said.

This year the Mastersingers have a composer-in-residence, former Mastersingers conductor Reginald Unterseher, whose compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall. The Mastersingers will perform multiple Unterseher compositions at each performance.

The choir's direct involvement with the composer has enriched the choral experience.

"I have enjoyed exploring (Unterseher's) choral works and having him present at every rehearsal, which allows for direct feedback from the 'creator' of his pieces. He has an intimate knowledge of the choir and is very supportive of the growth of the ensemble," Raffa said.

As part of the 25th anniversary, Unterseher will offer various public forums covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from discussions of his writing to the use of music technology.

"The public events were kicked off by a church choir workshop. The rest of the composer conversations will be on various subjects related to my writing, including a session on the poet-composer connection, a session on the changing world of music publishing and my involvement with the development of ePublishing and music technology," he said.

Unterseher is impressed with the Mastersingers's versatility and the wide variety of venues in which they perform..

"One of the most rewarding things about my involvement with Mastersingers is the continued expansion of the programming and events that we do.

"We do everything from singing the national anthem at hockey games and at the recent unveiling of the World Trade Center artifact in Kennewick, to fascinating and less well-known pieces like the Britten 'St. Nicolas,' as well as bring to town internationally renowned artists like Libby Larsen and Julianne Baird," Unterseher said.

The Mastersingers also have a conducting intern for the first time this year. Michael Blackwood, a music major who graduated from Whitman College last year, will conduct some of his own pieces at the upcoming concerts.

"As the conducting intern, I rehearse and perform a couple of my own pieces for each concert program. I am also responsible for warming the choir up before every rehearsal. I assist Justin Raffa with musical issues, I help him plan and run rehearsals, sometimes I'll run sectionals, and while not conducting I sing with the group," Blackwood said.

He is very appreciative to have the opportunity to work with the Mastersingers.

"This is an amazing opportunity for someone just out of undergrad. The experience that I'm getting is absolutely invaluable. I feel that I really lucked out," Blackwood said.

IF YOU GO

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will perform "Songs of the Saints" in two concerts.

7:30 p.m. Friday at Central United Protestant Church, Richland.

3 p.m. Sunday will be held at Walla Walla University Church, College Place, on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20. For more information, visit www.midcolumbiamastersingers.org.

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