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Listen in the Kitchen

Listen in the Kitchen serves up delicious, homespun harmony at the Vashon Bookshop from 7-8:30 p.m. for the year’s First Friday Gallery Cruise, to be held this month on January 8, 2016.

If this group were a food, it would be a rich stew cooked for hours on your mama’s woodstove:  a little rustic, familiar, and old-fashioned, but deeply felt and flavored, blending styles, genres, and stories into  tight, ancient harmonies that feed our modern hunger for balance and unity.

Five women of a certain age stir the vocal pot: Erin Durrett and Linera Lucas, who also craft the group’s arrangements;  Mary Rose O’Reilly, also on fiddle, and autoharp;  Mary  Litchfield Tuel, also on guitar;  and Lynn Carrigan, also on guitar and mandolin.  Listen in the Kitchen celebrates the simple gift of friends making music together with loving concentration and bold strokes of imperfection.  Their  harmonies reflect their musical tastes: high and lonesome, Appalachian, Celtic, folky, bluegrassy, old-timey, uninhibited and sometimes untethered.

Amid their duties as writers, poets, scholars, activists, mothers and grandmothers, they make time for themselves as singers, to transform the mysteries of life into familiar and unfamiliar tales of romance and lust, betrayal and loss, layered with hope, endurance, and faith.  They view music as a necessary counterweight  to sorrow, valuing the raw sound that comes from decades of heartbreak and grit. “We sing with the voices we have and are not apologizing,” says Mary Rose O’Reilley.

These five Islanders all met at Vashon’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, where they deliver glorious hymns in the choir, women’s schola, and at monthly Vespers services, under the leadership of lyric soprano Erin Durrett.  The music ministry there is a powerful force for healing, and spawned LITK as an informal way to bring comfort  to homebound parishioners facing illness and death.  Soon they were performing at church services and functions like the infamous CHS Hoedown of October 2014, complete with country get-ups,  and added bass , piano, and slide guitar for contra dancing.  In various configurations, they joined  the great pool of island minstrels at houseparties, Snapdragon , and the Coop, and officially debuted at Treasure Island for First Friday in September 2015.

Durrett’s  ear, honed in cathedrals,  is the guiding force of Listen in the Kitchen.   With her background in Medieval and Renaissance music, Erin brings a vast repertoire, knowledge of vocal dynamics and training in body mechanics, to her coaching. Her sensibilities are guided by  deep love for the “harmony of the spheres, “ which might be defined as inherent musical vibrations that underlie and bind together all of nature.  Her own voice is sublime, maybe the best on Vashon, but her concentration on the spiritual well-being of singers, rather than on perfection, enables those under her direction to relax, enjoy themselves, and  listen to each other. “Sing to the center,” she says, and the results are magic.

Mary Litchfield Tuel, writer and editor, is perhaps the best known member of Listen in the Kitchen.  Mary has been on the music scene here since the 1970’s, when she moved north from San Francisco.  Her original songs, warm, pure alto voice, and acoustic guitar became a mainstay in an earlier group, Women, Women, and  Song, whose recordings can still be purchased locally.  Mary was most recently featured in this past fall’s Simon and Garfunkel tribute, “Like a Bridge”, that played  Seattle’s Town Hall after opening on Vashon.  Author of the popular “Spiritual Smart Aleck” column in the Loop, Mary is highly respected by islanders for her expressive, accepting approach to daily challenges, including the 2013 death of her beloved husband Rick Tuel and her journey through grief. Her reappearance in the Vashon music community is a phoenix-like gift.

Mary Rose O’Reilley is a Buddhist Quaker novelist from Minnesota who moved to Vashon two years ago because of its reputation for rural simplicity, permaculture farming,  and creative diversity.  A retired college English professor with an affinity for American roots music, Mary Rose has brought Shapenote singing to LITK  and the broader Vashon community through monthly sings at the Grange.The lyrics are darker and more inclusive of the range of human emotionality than many classically styled European hymns, and are performed with  the full-throated passion typical of American tent revival worship.  A former spiritual director herself, Mary Rose infuses songs of every style with that same concentrated energy and devotion, in a clear alto voice that can find harmony anywhere.

Linera Lucas, a published poet and retired creative writing teacher, is a Northwest Native who brings to the group a high soprano and playful hankering for country swing and honky tonk. She contributes a lively  attention to narrative arc, organization and detail, and planning for group events.  She can be the most surprising of the group, with her sudden wide grin, wicked humor, and steamy moves that  accompany some of her earthy solos and delight audiences.

Lynn Carrigan, a retired professor of social work and medical ethics, has been a guitar picker and singer since the 60’s folk revival.  Raised in the South, Lynn is most interested in the power of song to portray universal struggles and advocate for peace.   She  played Irish music with the Vashon Celtic Players and her small ensemble Innisfree  for ten years.  Lynn is now a part of the Old Time music group Tuesday Nights, and occasionally sings with Vashon’s Free Range Folk Choir.  Her deep  second alto voice can reach the tenor range, bringing a drone-like quality that in music terms  means hovering on a low, sustained note or sound that supports the melodic lines above.  

Together, Listen in the Kitchen is a feast, a banquet of sound and story, as comfortable as a campfire sing-along on a cold night.  Come hear the wit, wisdom, and wonder of songs old and new, sung by women with experience, free of charge.