This weekend, about 3,000 people are expected to show up to listen to the Olympia Choral Society. If you want to be among them, plan on arriving early to make sure you get a seat.
Since the society began performing 19 years ago, the free holiday concert has become such a popular draw that the Koval Performing Arts Center in Lacey can’t hold everyone who wants to attend.
“We added a fourth performance a few years ago, because we were turning people away,” choir director Terry Shaw said in an interview this week. “And even with that, last year we were turning people away at one of the concerts.
“I would definitely recommend being there 30 minutes early.”
This weekend, musicians from the Olympia Symphony Orchestra will accompany the choir. “Rarely do you get a chorus with an orchestra at Christmastime,” Shaw said.
On the program are selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and carols by acclaimed contemporary composer John Rutter.
“The choruses from the ‘Messiah’ are bright, lively and almost raucous,” Shaw said. “And the John Rutter music provides a contrast. You’ll hear lush, warm melodies that are brought out through a cappella sections within a piece of music, and then the orchestra comes back in.”
Shaw focuses on giving singers and audiences alike a diverse selection of music.
There’s nobody that I’ve been able to find that offers free concerts and gives away their donations as well. That alone sets us apart from everybody.
Terry Shaw, choir director
His bigger purpose is to serve the community. The fact that concerts are free — although donations are accepted — is only one part of that mission.
The proceeds from each holiday concert are donated to a local nonprofit organization. This one will support scholarships for Thurston County Specialized Recreation Services, which provides events, trips and fitness programs for teens and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.
The society typically gives a spring concert, too, with proceeds from that event funding a $1,500 scholarship for a local high school senior. This spring, the society will give a scholarship as usual, but won’t present a concert. Instead Shaw, who teaches choir and weight training at Timberline High School, will produce and co-direct a musical he wrote.
“There’s nobody that I’ve been able to find that offers free concerts and gives away their donations as well,” said Shaw, who founded the society while he was a student at Pacific Lutheran University. “That alone sets us apart from everybody.”
It’s typical for singers to stay with the group for many years. Five have been with the group since the beginning, including Jennifer Shaw, Terry Shaw’s wife. That — combined with the fact that Terry Shaw likes to keep the choir at about 70 members — means there aren’t many spots for newcomers at the auditions held each summer.
“The group is filled with wonderful people,” said Rochelle LaRose of Olympia, a soprano who joined the society in 2006. “I think a big part of it is that we are singing to earn money for disadvantaged people in our community.”
The friendships she’s made and the support the singers give one another are part of the reason she’s continued to sing, LaRose said. She was fairly new to Olympia and a young mother when she joined.
“It’s kept me going all these years, in spite of the twists and turns my life has taken, getting divorced and getting remarried and moving three times,” she said. “I’ve sung solos, and I always feel like I have a choir of people behind me supporting me.”
What: The Olympia Choral Society’s holiday concert, accompanied by members of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, features selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and carols by contemporary English composer John Rutter.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 9), 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: James Koval Center for the Performing Arts at North Thurston High School, 600 Sleater Kinney Road NE, Lacey.
Tickets: Free; donations accepted for the PARC Foundation’s scholarships for the Thurston County Specialized Recreation Program, which provides recreational opportunities for people with physical and developmental disabilities.