It was during the deepest, darkest days of the Pandemic – in the spring of 2020 – that Wendi Olinger reached out to a local group of acapella singers – known affectionately as Crescendo – and asked if anyone was still interested in practicing and performing.
The answer was a resounding “yes” from at least 20 choir members, who each had to sing their parts – be it alto, bass, soprano or tenner – over Zoom while Olinger played piano, and cajoled and commiserated with them as they learned songs and experimented with a completely new format and medium.
“It was such a learning curve,” recalls Olinger, Crescendo’s musical director of instructing over Zoom and watching her chorus both succeed and fail – sometimes in the same moment – in grasping the new technological tool. But “it gave us purpose and kept us being social and connected.”
Like many other local and national performing arts groups, Crescendo has had to weather the fits and starts that Covid-19 has wrought. Thanks to help from a creative recording engineer, the group did manage to perform an online Holiday concert in December of 2020 before shutting down for most of last spring.
The singing group came back together to rehearse and perform in the fall of 2021, and continued doing so this winter and spring, all the while adhering to the now familiar protocols of masking up, standing six feet apart and having windows and doors open – along with fans blowing – to maintain safety.
“Wendi deserves a ton of credit for pulling us through the Pandemic,” says Connie Bye, a soprano singer, who along with husband, Dale Bye, has helped Olinger organize Crescendo’s music, rehearsals and performances. “We’ve gotten better over the years. (Even) people who can’t read music are coming back.”
Crescendo is a program under the wing of Bainbridge’s Ovation! Musical Theater. It started a decade ago under the leadership of former director Todd Hulet, who is now the musical director of Lego Land in Upstate New York. Back then, the chorus met twice in the early afternoon.
Dale Bye says the organization fizzled out after the charismatic Hulet left for greener pastures back East in 2013. “Participation really dropped off after he left,” Dale remembers. “The opportunities for participation were limited. You had to either work on the island or (you were retired) and didn’t work.”
Shortly thereafter, Crescendo re-formed as an evening rehearsal, meeting for two hours every Monday night at Ovation’s staging room, located on the basement floor of the Bainbridge Building, at 600 Ericksen Avenue.
The current chorus has about 22 regulars participating in its winter/spring program that is comprised of mostly familiar show tunes, with some traditional numbers thrown in for good measure.
“It’s coming back,” Olinger says of Crescendo’s participation. “Spring is harder because it’s vacation time.” The chorus is made up of people from many walks of life, from writers and scientists to tech executives, government agency leaders, and retirees. A few members have previously performed in Ovation musicals, such as Pirates of Penzance or South Pacific.
“The experience level is very wide,” explains Olinger, who is a trained opera singer and has a Masters Degree in music education and a Bachelor’s in vocal performance. “Some people have sung all their lives, while others are just starting out.”
“This a very forgiving bunch,” adds Dale Bye. “People like it and they have fun doing it.”
The 44-year-old Olinger took over the reins of Crescendo in 2018 after moving to the island from Texas with her husband and a pair of pre-teens. She taught music at an elementary school in the Lone Star State and prior to that at the prestigious Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut.
“It keeps me doing music at a high level,” she says of managing Crescendo. “I enjoy it. It helps that I was a teacher.” When she’s not conducting the chorus, Olinger supplements her income by running the Big Leaf Maple Bakery https://bigleafmaplebakery.com in Poulsbo. She and her business partner specialize in making hand-made breads, French pastries and a whole assortment of other delicious-looking confections.
Olinger works closely with the Bye’s and other experienced Crescendo members to select songs that the group will perform for either the fall term or the winter/spring session.
“We look at songs we performed before,” says Connie Bye, “then Wendi looks it over and selects three or four songs she likes. Then, people in the group make suggestions (based on a list of potential songs) and they vote on them.”
Typically, eight to 10 songs are chosen, and the group practices those for about 12 weeks before holding a free concert – usually staged at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church. Crescendo is not your classic acapella singing group. At its larger concerts, it does have musical accompaniment provided by long-time Bainbridge pianist Chris Smellow.
But at many of its smaller performances at places such as Starbucks, Safeway, the Bargain Boutique, Bloedel Reserve, and any number of area nursing homes, the group often performs acapella. “We’ll sing anywhere,” jokes Dale Bye.
Click here to watch Crescendo
Crescendo charges its members $99 per term and is supported by donations and sponsorships, both from members and lovers of the arts. This season’s spring concert will be held on Monday May 16 at the aforementioned Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church, 11042 Sunrise Drive. The public is invited to celebrate the season with a lively mix of Broadway tunes, pop, jazz, classics and more.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. on Monday and admission is free, but “donations are happily accepted,” adds Dale. Audience members will be required to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entry and must wear masks at all times. Later this month on May 27 at the Clearwater Casino and Resort, Ovation is holding it’s annual – returning after the Pandemic – Gala fundraiser. For more information on Crescendo and Ovation, visit: https://www.ovationmtb.com
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