(Keith J. Krueger) The Willapa Harbor Chorale is pictured here at its May 2016 concert, led by Rick Gauger.

(Keith J. Krueger) The Willapa Harbor Chorale is pictured here at its May 2016 concert, led by Rick Gauger.

Willapa Harbor Chorale members step up to put on concert despite director’s illness

Mary “Rick” Gauger has been directing the Willapa Harbor Chorale since 1984. And since she lost her singing voice two years later to throat cancer, according to husband Dave Gauger, the community choir has served as her voice.

But she collapsed during a rehearsal a few weeks ago; and while she is recovering, she has not yet regained the strength to direct. With the annual Christmas concert approaching, 15-year chorale member Kathy Holland stepped up to lead the group.

“I have always, since I’ve been here, said ‘If you need me to help for anything, I’ll fill in,’” said Holland, who lives in the Raymond area. “So I guess it just sort of came naturally that I filled in for a couple of doctor’s appointments, and then I just kept going.”

Holland will serve as conductor for this Sunday’s concert, “Sing for Joy,” at the Raymond Theatre. The program will include traditional songs mixed with some modern arrangements, she said — “some fast, peppy numbers and some a little more slow, soothing lullaby types of songs.”

The song list will include the Hallelujah Chorus and one of Holland’s personal favorites, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” She’s excited about Sunday’s program, and about the choir in general.

“I love it. It’s a wonderful creative outlet,” said Holland. “It’s for everybody, from people with advanced degrees in music to beginners who can’t read a note of music.”

Members hail from Central Park, Montesano, Westport, South Bend and Raymond, Gauger said.

“This is a highly diverse group of people molded into ‘community’ through the miracle of shared music,” he said. “Those who don’t read music are mentored by those who do. … There are no outsiders. It is one voice!”

After this concert, given his wife’s health, the future of the community choir will have to be mapped out.

“The real story here … is the determination of chorale members to continue the heritage,” said Gauger. “In fact, they are planning meetings to outline a path forward — keeping the music and associated camaraderie alive.”

Holland said the members might form a choir board in their effort to keep things going. As to who will direct for the long term, she said, “We don’t know. We have two or three other people who also can conduct, and maybe we’d take turns. We’ll see.”

The concert will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday at the historic Raymond Theatre, 323 Third St. Admission is free (though donations will be graciously accepted). A reception will follow.