It’s a Wanda-ful World

Wanda Gereben was recognized for her contributions to choral music in Hawaii.

Wanda Gereben was recognized for her contributions to choral music in Hawaii.

Talk about choral music in Hawaii, and I bet the first name that comes to mind is Wanda Gereben, who was honored at last night’s gala 50th anniversary celebration of the Honolulu Chorale. I wrote about Wanda a couple of years ago (“50 Years of Choral Music in Hawaii.”) as the person who organized “The Big Sing.”  Just about every choral conductor in town was there last night to celebrate Wanda’s influence in spreading the good news about choral singing in Hawaii. According to the program,

“Wanda Gereben has been a choral director and in the field of music education in Hawai’i for fifty-plus years. Her many accomplishments and contributions to the performing arts community include:

  • Chairman of the Music Department of St. Andrew’s Priory for 25 years.
  • Church musician in Hawai’i for 30 years (St. Timothy’s, St. Peter’s and St. Christopher’s)
  • Founder and artistic director of the Hawai’i Children’s Chorus
  • Life member of the national American Choral Directors Association
  • Founder and executive director of the Pacific Rim Children’s Chorus Festival.
  • Owner of the Group Travel Services Hawai’i until 2012, specializing in serving performing groups traveling to Hawai’i.
  • Patron of the performing arts: was on the board of the Hawai’i Youth Opera Chorus and the O’ahu Choral Society; also a member of the board for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.
  • Choral arranger published by Hal Leonard Music.”

Last night’s program was filled with memories — from the distant past to those more recent, as various speakers related their experiences with Wanda over the years. Local real estate guru Stephany Sofos who was Wanda’s student at the Priory, credited Wanda with saving her life when she took choir; choral director Susan McCreary Duprey recalled her time in the Hawai’i Children’s Chorus which she first joined at age 5; Miguel Felipe talked about her many years in the Hawaii chapter of ACDA (American Choral Directors Association); Melvin Vios spoke as the former president of the Honolulu Chorale; Barbara Ritchie, a Honolulu paralegal admitted she had never done singing before joining the Chorale; and Mark Conching spoke of Wanda’s time as the executive director of the Pacific Rim Children’s Chorus Festival.

The evening had plenty of music, beginning with Guy Merola singing “This is the moment” from Jekyll & Hyde; Malia Ka’ai Barrett then graced us with “Ain’t it a pretty night” from the opera Susannah, and Charles E. King’s Kamehameha Waltz; Neal Yamamura sang “Bring him home,” from Les Misérables; and of course, the Honolulu Chorale sang, under the direction of Jeremy Wong: Wanda’s arrangement of Ka Wailele O Nu’uanu, and Kirby Shaw’s arrangement of Paul Simon’s Bridge over troubled water. Ernest Harada reprised his version of “Memories,” which he sang at last year’s fundraiser with Don Conover.

Neal Yamamura's view of the Honolulu Chorale performance.

A view of the Honolulu Chorale performance (Photo by Neal Yamamura)

Surely one of the musical highlights was the performance by the 19th Avenue Barbershop Quartet singing their parody of “It’s a Wonderful World,” and Mark Conching was kind enough to send me the lyrics they wrote:

Wanda conducted us in "Climb every mountain"

Wanda conducted us in “Climb every mountain”

She taught children through
The joy of song
Guiding them all
Her whole life long
For the lives that she’s touched
It’s a Wanda-ful world

On our choral scene
She led the way
Pacific Rim
For the singers she’s blessed
It’s a Wanda-ful world

And at St. Andrew’s Priory
You furthered your career
You built Queen Emma Center
Then boys would soon appear
You see friends gathered ’round
Hon’ring all that you do
They’re really saying
“I love you”

And so Wanda, dear
This night’s for you
Thank you for all
The marvels you do
So, for everyone here
It’s a Wanda-ful world
Yes, for everyone here
It’s a Wanda-ful world

I'm terrible at taking selfies!

I’m terrible at taking selfies!

When finally Wanda spoke after receiving the Joseph McAlister Award, she credited a number of directors who influenced the choral music scene in Hawaii but have now joined the heavenly chorus: Roy Hallman, Dale Noble, Robert Hines, John McCreary, Joe McAlister, and yes, Carl Crosier, with whom Wanda worked at the Priory. Wanda gave me a shout-out in recognizing me as the accompanist from her St. Andrew’s Priory and Hawaii Children’s Chorus days (that was just about 40 years ago!!)

One of the best quotes of the night was when Wanda said she had a passion for choral music, but only if people sang in tune! She said that she was a little girl when she decided she wanted to be a choir director!

Stephany Sofos posted this video of Wanda directing us all in a performance of “Climb every mountain.” What a fun night!

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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