When you want to inspire and enrich the community through beautiful, joyful music, you start a choir, and that’s exactly what Anne Pell, a well-known local pianist and jazz musician did back in 2013. She called it Amabile Choir (pronounced ah-MAH-bi-lay), borrowed from the Italian word, which means “amiable, pleasant, or sweet, and can also be used as a direction in music to indicate a tender or gentle style,” according to Wiktionary.org. Over the next four years, Anne would grow the choir to almost 40 members, with performances at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Wyatt Way.
When Anne decided to move to Italy in 2017, the choir turned to Sylvia Cauter, who, at the time, was the Director of the extremely successful choral music program at North Kitsap High School (NKHS) in Poulsbo, as well as choir director and accompanist at Bethany Lutheran Church on Bainbridge. Her passion for music runs deep—growing up, she immersed herself in music, taking both piano and violin lessons, as well as participating in the children’s choir at her church, and through music at school. “I became interested in choral music early in my life thanks to my mother,” Sylvia shared. “I sang in my church’s children’s choir since the age of four and could be found conducting a children’s choir of dolls on the stairs of my home in Oakland, CA.”
Knowing at a young age that she wanted to make teaching and directing music her life’s work, Sylvia attended Concordia College in Moorhead, MN obtaining her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, and a Master of Arts in Piano Performance from San Francisco State University. After college, she landed a long-term substitute position at an Oakland elementary school, and asked if she could teach music along with her other teaching duties, “The principal was very supportive and I transitioned into a choir director position while earning my teacher’s certificate. I absolutely loved it!!!” Sylvia said. She then spent the next 30 years teaching choral music (retiring in 2022), and maintains active memberships in the National Association for Music Education and the American Choral Directors Association. To learn more about Sylvia’s career, passion for music, and vision, see below for a Q&A presented by Board and choir member, Melissa Weakly.
Under Sylvia’s direction, the choir has grown in membership to 60 singers, become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, expanded Board participation and encouraged former students to join the choir. In addition to directing Amabile, she continues to direct the choir at Bethany Lutheran and sings in a local women’s a cappella group called Schola, which sings an Evensong service once a month at St. Barnabas.
Amabile is a multi-generational choir, with several husband-and-wife teams, and over the years, a varying number of grandmother-grandchild, mother-daughter and father-son pairs have participated, ranging in age from their twenties all the way through their seventies. The members come from all over Bainbridge Island and throughout the North Kitsap County communities. The music is described as mixed-voice, which Board and choir member, Nancy Garland explained as, “mixed voice in this context means SATB (a four-part harmony using soprano, alto, tenor and bass), i.e., not a treble or ‘women’s chorus’ or a bass choir or ‘men’s chorus.’” As noted on their website, “Many works in the repertoire are sung a cappella, with others accompanied by piano, organ, or small chamber instrument accompaniment.”
“We perform choral arrangements of popular music (for instance Let the River Run, by Carly Simon, and Clear Blue Morning by Dolly Parton). We sang a couple of Sondheim songs from Sweeney Todd in our last concert,” explained Eileen Nicol, also a Board and choir member. “But Sylvia also chooses more traditional and challenging choral music. This past (spring) concert we sang a piece in Spanish, Mi Amor Di Alma, and one in Estonian, Musikka. I love the variety in the songs that Sylvia chooses for us.”
Over the years, Amabile Choir has collaborated with various singing groups and other local musicians. Last December, they were invited to perform holiday songs at the Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo, which Melissa described as a “one evening show, a cabaret-type event of singing, dancing, ugly sweater contest in their small venue.” In addition, they performed with the Olympic Serenade Trio (Priscilla Jones, Katherine Davies, and Justine Jeanotte) during their Winter 2022 concert.
During their spring concert this year, they performed with the Sakai Intermediate School Choir, under the direction of Katie Gibbs as well as members of the Poulsbo Community Orchestra. You can listen to that concert here: Amabile Choir Spring Concert 2023. Future collaborations include the North Kitsap High School Vocal Point Jazz Choir for Amabile’s Spring 2024 program.
Celebrate Winter with Music from Amabile
Join Amabile Choir as they celebrate the holiday season with their latest program, “Songs for a Winter’s Night”. They will be performing at Bethany Lutheran Church on Bainbridge Island on Friday, December 1st at 7:30pm and Saturday, December 2nd at 3pm and 7:30pm. Admission to any performance is $20. Tickets are available on the Amabile website at www.amabilechoir.org, and at Dana’s on Bainbridge.
The program includes songs celebrating our various holiday traditions, both sacred and secular, including Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for Winter’s Night”, Vivaldi’s “Gloria”, Ivo Antognini’s “Christe Redemptor Omnium” and a selection of traditional and modern arrangements of your favorite Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. They will once again perform with the Olympic Serenade Quartet and will be accompanied by Katrina Noble on piano and other local musicians.
Join members for “A Christmas Party with Amabile Choir”, at the Jewel Box Theatre (225 NE Iverson St, Poulsbo, WA) on Saturday, December 16th at 7:30pm and Sunday, December 17th at 2pm. As with last year’s party, the event will include sing-alongs, dancing, and an ugly sweater contest. For additional information and tickets, visit: Amabile Choir | Jewel Box Theatre (jewelboxpoulsbo.org)
Sylvia Cauter Q&A presented by Melissa Weakly
Tell us about your program at North Kitsap High School. My years at NKHS were spent sharing my love of choral music with over a thousand students, providing them opportunities to grow as musicians and human beings. I taught six choirs at NKHS which included all boy (tenor/bass) and all girl (soprano/alto) groups, jazz choirs and advanced symphonic and treble (women’s) choirs.
I loved having students for three or four years because I was able to watch their musical progress and maturity. My students participated in All State and All Northwest Honor Choirs, regional and state solo and ensemble contests, jazz and choral festivals, receiving high honors. One of the highlights of my career was when one of our ensembles won at the State level in April 2022, just months away from my retirement. They were truly exceptional!
NKHS choir students toured annually to various locations – Victoria & Vancouver BC, San Francisco, Disneyland, New York City (Carnegie Hall performances), Costa Rica and Hawaii! Obviously, I love to travel and enjoyed sharing this love with my students.
How does conducting the adults in Amabile and at Bethany differ from teaching young people? When I started conducting Amabile, I immediately felt warmth and acceptance from the members. Everyone was very welcoming! I enjoy the challenge of working with people of diverse backgrounds and ages in my adult choirs. These are people from their 20s through their 70s and from every walk of life who are brought together by their love of singing.
You retired in 2022. Why did you decide to keep directing Amabile instead of sipping cocktails on a beach in Hawaii? I have lots of interests which include yoga, long daily walks, traveling, cooking, playing the piano, reading, and spending time with my family. I love to have fun and laugh, be silly, and try to enjoy life as much as I possibly can. I absolutely love Amabile and conducting and couldn’t imagine retiring from all of my jobs.
How do you go about selecting music and putting a program together? I listen to hundreds of new works every year and make selections. Most of the time I select the music I like and then the theme emerges. I always want a balance between a cappella and instrumental pieces, new composers, genres. I want to make sure that I don’t repeat songs from year to year because there is so much incredible choral music available.
What is your artistic vision for Amabile? In the end, I want to create a community where people share music that evokes emotion and personal reflection.
If you’re interested in joining or supporting Amabile Choir, please check their website (www.amabilechoir.org) for information about auditioning and membership, sponsorships and upcoming events.
ADVERTISE WITH US! We offer exceptional rates and packages for advertisers, to learn more, contact us at Contact Us | THE ISLAND WANDERER