From Union, Washington to the Big Apple: The trip of a lifetime

Anna's Bay Chorale
Doctoral conducting student Matthew Blegan (right center front) conducts the Anna's Bay Chorale

When Matthew Blegen completed his master’s degree in Voice at the UW in 2006, he embarked on an ambitious project to make music and its benefits more accessible to the residents of rural Mason County, Washington. He founded the Anna’s Bay Center for Music, a music organization run largely by volunteers and based in the tiny community of Union on the south shore of Hood Canal. The center’s flagship ensemble, the Anna’s Bay Chorale, conducted by Blegen, is a non-auditioned community choir open to any singer age 14 or older, and it currently includes 74 singers ages 14 to 86. 

It's a long way from Union, Washington, to the Big Apple, but thanks to modern technology, namely YouTube, the Anna's Bay Chorale recently came to the attention of event programmers at Lincoln Center in New York City, who were impressed by the group's videos of their annual performances of Handel's Messiah. They were so impressed, in fact, that they invited the group to perform at Avery Fisher Hall this year as the anchor choir of Lincoln Center's Nov. 25 presentation of the Messiah.

“Anna’s Bay received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the Chorale,” says Jonathan Griffith, artistic director and principal conductor for the Lincoln Center performance. “These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but are also ambassadors for their entire community.”

Blegen, a former NYC resident, will lead a contingent of about 100 singers, community members, and a documentary film crew on the five-day trip to New York, which also will include a performance at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes. The trip is made possible by the generosity of the greater Mason County community, which has come together to stage a successful series of fundraising efforts that have been under way since July.  

In addition to his responsibilities as director of Anna's Bay Center, Blegen is working toward a doctoral degree in choral conducting from the UW, studying with Geoffrey Boers. Blegen commutes from Union to Seattle for classes, often bringing along his 18-month old son Gus. He admits he has his hands full and is a bit overwhelmed by the competing demands on his time and by all the attention (he's currently being followed around by a film crew from KBTC public television in Tacoma, which is producing a full-length documentary on Blegen and Anna's Bay Chorale). But he is confident that all the hard work will pay off exponentially, most importantly in the enduring impact on the lives of the people of his community who have been touched by their exposure to great music through his work. Says Shelton High School student Jordan Hanson, “The day I was told that I would be singing in New York City, I was lifted off my feet, thrown into the sky, and landed on cloud nine. Anna’s Bay has given me cause to believe that kids from Shelton are just as good as anybody else. I have been told that all my life, but now I finally believe it.”