PORT ANGELES — “Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do,” Ella Fitzgerald said. “Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
Fitzgerald, the legendary jazz singer, is just one of the voices inspiring Bee Wilkinson these days. A student in the Vocal Masters course at Peninsula College — just added to the community education lineup — Wilkinson is singing her way through the pandemic era.
Her mentor is Elaine Gardner-Morales, the music professor who, defiant of the shutdown on public singing, created an all-online connection between her students anywhere on the North Olympic Peninsula to performers across and beyond North America.
The 10-week Vocal Masters Series will start meeting Tuesday. Students wishing to enroll in this class, either through community education or for credit, must register by Monday, either at tinyurl.com/PDN-VocalMasters or pencol.edu/music. A fee is charged.
“I started out singing country a long time ago,” said Wilkinson, who lives in Port Angeles. The college’s Vocal Masters course introduced her to jazz — “and that opened up my door … The class and Elaine have pushed me to explore things I never thought I would. Elaine just said: ‘For real, try this.’ ”
Gardner-Morales, who’s taught the class a couple of times now, will bring in a cadre of “clinicians,” as she calls them.
“This next quarter, I’m going to branch out a bit more. I’m going to change it up,” she said, adding the guest instructors include Jenna Monroe, an Englishwoman who has recorded a number of CDs. Her music therapy expertise piqued Gardner-Morales’ interest: Monroe takes a full-body approach to warming up and taking care of yourself.
Also joining students: Michele Weir, vocal producer of the Manhattan Transfer’s “Chick Corea Songbook” album and a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles; Angela Kelman, a vocal coach and performer in Vancouver, B.C.; Jennifer Ivester, a singer based in Gig Harbor; and Joani Taylor, known as Canada’s first lady of the jazz ballad.
Students will sing with these clinicians, hear their feedback and have a chance to work on a professionally mixed recording, Gardner-Morales added.
“A lot of the students are very excited about learning,” she said, admitting that after some 45 years as a music educator, she finds herself enthused too.
“After each hour-and-a-half class we’ve had, I’ve gotten a text or an email from a student who said, ‘That was a really great class’ or ‘You know, I got something out of that.’ I didn’t always get that when I taught face to face,” said the professor.
Wilkinson, 30, said the course has brought together a mix of singers and ages — “beginners to professionals who’ve recorded CDs,” she said.
“I definitely have a long way to go in my music career, so it’s great to see a wide range of individuals. You learn something new, even from the newbies,” such as the 60-something-year-old who’s well-versed in recording technology.
To help fund the team of clinicians, Gardner-Morales received support from the Peninsula College Foundation, Sound Community Bank and the Olympus Group at D.A. Davidson & Co., cosponsor of the Peninsula College Vocal Jazz Ensemble’s Jingle Jazz concert. When that event was canceled, D.A. Davidson’s Christopher Simmons said he was pleased to move his support over to the Vocal Masters Series.
While the 10-week course’s fee is $249, it would have been more costly without such sponsorship, Gardner-Morales said.
“I thought [remote learning] was going to be a cold experience,” she added, yet both Wilkinson and Gardner-Morales have felt that current of energy that rides on a song.
The classes push the students, Wilkinson said, to explore their vocal range. She looks forward to adding to her repertoire, which already includes the classic “Deedles Blues,” pop numbers such as “Joanne” by Lady Gaga and “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack.
“It’s been quite the abrupt change from singing on stage, where you get one shot,” she said. Still, “it’s just a great class.”
For more information about the vocal ensemble and the Vocal Masters Series, email Gardner-Morales at [email protected].
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected].