Romantic concert today is fundraiser for woman with cancer

SEQUIM — “One Hand, One Heart” from “West Side Story.”

“All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera.”

“Don’t Go, Sally” from “Cabaret.”

The program for today’s Peninsula Singers concert is unabashedly romantic.

This isn’t just any afternoon concert. Titled “Songs to Warm the Heart,” it’s a benefit for Denise Graham, a relatively new member of the Peninsula Singers who is facing a particularly trying time.

Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer earlier this year — a decade after her first fight against the illness — Graham, 43, has begun treatments in Sequim and said that chemotherapy may be in her future.

So the Peninsula Singers, with conductor Dewey Ehling and President Valerie Lape decided to give a concert in Graham’s honor and to help her with living expenses.

They put together a collection of works that includes George Gershwin songs — “Embraceable You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” — and other gems such as “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” and a four-song tribute to the music of George M. Cohan.

The hourlong concert will start at 2 p.m. today at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 N. Blake Ave.

Admission is $15, or $12 for students and seniors.

All proceeds will go into a fund for Graham’s living expenses.

Peninsula Singers tenor Brian Doig and mezzo-soprano Linda Grubb are among the featured, as is guest artist Carol Swarbrick Dries, a singer who has ap-peared on Broadway and at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle among other major venues.

She’ll add Irving Berlin’s “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” to the afternoon.

‘Mystery guest’

Thanks to Swarbrick Dries, another formidable singer has learned of the benefit concert and expressed interest in singing a little something.

He is here visiting Swarbrick Dries and her husband, Jim Dries. And he may be the “mystery guest,” who just might join the group, she said Thursday.

Graham, meantime, is determined to offer her own song.

A soprano, she joined the Peninsula Singers only about a year ago after moving to Sequim from Surrey, B.C.

She has been working with Ehling, who calls her voice “a marvelous instrument.”

Today, Graham is intent on performing an aria from Puccini’s Suor Angelica opera, a tender story of a woman who joins a religious order late in life.

A former schoolteacher, Graham left Canada for the North Olympic Peninsula because she wanted to start her own academic coaching business.

“This is a really good market for what I wanted to do,” she said. “Sequim seemed to offer the life I wanted.”

Graham said she’s been overwhelmed by the kindness of the people who have befriended her here.

‘Opened their hearts’

The Peninsula Singers “just opened their hearts to me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how incredibly blessed I am.”

Graham added she has some medical insurance through Washington state.

“But it has limitations; this benefit concert is very much appreciated.”

Since her treatments began, Graham has been unable to work.

She is staying with her boyfriend, John Gerbert, in Port Angeles. She describes him as “the most wonderful man in the world.”

As the Peninsula Singers concert has come together in recent weeks, Graham has been focusing on gratitude.

“The reason for the concert aside, the Peninsula Singers are a hugely talented group of people. The music they make is absolutely wonderful,” she said.

“I don’t have a lot of words to express how I feel, having that caliber of people giving their time for the concert.”

Music and lyrics, then, will pour out instead.

Completing the concert will be Randall Thompson’s “Choose Something Like a Star,” based on the Robert Frost poem, and “Mary Ann,” a Canadian folk song.

After the performance, audience members are invited to stay for a reception with the singers.


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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