Few people are able to live their dream of making a living from the fine arts. Gary Witley is one of those lucky guys. Gary Witley has completed careers in music and music technology at both Tenino (22 years) and Griffith (20 years) school districts, teaching music to elementary rather than high school students, which gave him time for off-hour and weekend pursuits.
Also, he composes and arranges music. He has written musical numbers galore and four musicals. He has also designed costumes and sets. His newest musical for young voices, “The Elephant’s Child,” is based on the Rudyard Kipling story. It was scheduled to debut in March 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I love teaching,” Gary commented. “I love sharing music with people and I've been blessed my whole life to have music provide a teaching career and also be an outlet for my creativity, my passion and my art.
He has directed choirs for The Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College. He has served as music director for Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, and Brethren churches in California and Washington. He taught private lessons and had part-time gigs, such as teaching chorus and recorders at the Olympia Waldorf School.
He has loved it all. So much, in fact, that he only retired recently from his second public school career and that was due to the limits on musical performance in the classroom during COVID. He looks back gratefully at a career doing what he loved.
But what he has loved MOST, he readily admitted during our visit, is the Masterworks Chorale Ensemble. He has served as the primary conductor of Masterworks Choral Ensemble since its inception in 1981 and serves as their Artistic Director, Conductor. He was also the business manager for a few years.
Words from President, Masterworks Board of Directors, Rosalyn Dailey:
Gary has been the heart and soul of the choir. In many ways, he IS Masterworks. The love and respect that the choir has for him is evident when you hear people talk about Gary and what he means to them. He will be greatly missed, but I know everyone is so happy for him and excited for all the new adventures he will embark upon!
We thank Gary for all he has given to the choir over the past 42 years. There wouldn't be a Masterworks Choral Ensemble without him!
By all accounts, Rosalyn Dailey is correct. Witley has seen the Masterworks Chorale Ensemble grow from its beginning as a 40-voice non-audition choir in the old St. Martins’ music building, courtesy of Brother Ronald, under the smokestack that is now long gone. After St. Martin’s, they practiced at Griffin School District; Jefferson Middle School; and a myriad of other venues around town. Now, and for many years, they have practiced at the First United Methodist Church downtown, a large facility with breakout rooms, a piano, and with a good central location. As they grew, now to 75 members (60-65 performing per concert), they developed audition protocols, commissioned a few of their own works, and developed in many other ways.
They perform at the stately Washington Center for the Performing Arts. In fact, they opened the facility! They were the first performance on stage in 1985, with the Olympia Symphony Orchestra following on the same evening as the second act. Neither group has looked back!
“What I will miss most is the community at Masterworks which has sustained me, with all the wonderful people involved. We arrive weekly, each Tuesday, for practice with all our work-a-day baggage and leave floating on air with tunes in our heads.”
He went on to say that he will continue and cherish the wonderful relationships developed through the ensemble. He won’t totally go away though. “I will be in the audience!” he exclaimed.
And the choir members will be looking for him.
Here are heartfelt words from Mary Tennyson, Vice President of Masterworks Board of Directors, “I have sung with Masterworks Choral Ensemble under Gary's direction since 1983. It has been wonderful to see how Gary has fostered the growth of Masterworks as an organization, the quality of our performance, and the camaraderie among the choir members. He created an environment that has resulted in this group bonding with lifelong friendships. The organization has worked through many challenges under Gary's guidance and he will be greatly missed.
Gary and his wife Diane Perlman look forward to an open schedule allowing them to travel, and they have so many places to go. “I've got grandsons in Hawaii,” he pointed out. “She has granddaughters in Scotland. My son is in Washington, DC, working as a journalist there and my youngest daughter is in Bellingham. Also, my wife has a family she's close to in Peru. She lived in Peru for a while and started a nonprofit to help a small village.”
Gary has many written a lot of music that he will now have time to market it to publishers. Also, what about “The Elephant’s Child” musical? Is there a production in his future?
At Masterworks, a new artistic director, Ben Luedcke, has been selected from many candidates. Luedcke starts work in August and leads his first production in October. Subscriptions for the 2023-2024 season tickets will go on sale June 17, 2023, the day of Witley’s final concert. Masterworks Choral Ensemble, “Golden Age of Broadway” is excited to have Luedcke take leadership as artistic director, looking forward to the next 40+ years of music for Olympia and the South Sound region.
Masterworks is an important part of the community. They participate in benefit drives and community services with over two dozen community groups and collaborators. They have a lot of fun, and have traveled to other locales, including a performance trip to Sydney, Australia.
Gary also founded, directs, and sings with the Masterworks Singers, a smaller ensemble that performs for community and private events, and participates in the Masterworks concert programs.
In addition, Masterworks sponsors the premiere a cappella competition in March each year, for the Pacific Northwest region of the national Harmony Sweepstakes competition. Masterworks is the regional sponsor and Gary has organized and directed this highly successful event for 35 years. The winning group is sent each year to California for the National Finals. Impressively, national television producers sought consultation to design their own talent-search TV shows!
Masterworks is looking for talented vocalists. Don’t worry too much about sight reading. It is just one component of several jury items. In the Masterworks jury protocol, they conduct an audio warm-up with the applicant, then test vocal range, clapping rhythm, voice labs, tonal memory, and sight reading. No one item can disqualify an applicant. Once in the choir, you may learn new music by reading and/or listening. They provide online learning files that enable choir members to practice at home with a virtual electronic accompanist.
The Masterworks Choral Ensemble performs five times annually: mid-April, mid-June, and mid-October, and on the first Saturday in December.
Gary's final concert leading Masterworks will be The Golden Age of Broadway, featuring a wide range of crowd-pleasing tunes, on Saturday, June 17, 2023, at 7:30 pm at the Washington Center. He has named his director notes, in the evening’s hard copy program, as, “Memories, Milestones, & Magic to Come”.
Buy tickets now for The Golden Age of Broadway, 7:30 pm on Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Shirley Stirling, of Lacey, writes about good things people in Thurston County are doing. If you’d like to nominate someone to be profiled, contact her at shirley@theJOLTnews.com or comment below.