EVERETT — Heather MacLaughlin Garbes was inspired to go from violinist to conductor after a car crash severed a tendon in her left hand.
Garbes, of Camano Island, has been named the new artistic director and conductor of the Everett Chorale. She still plays the violin, but conducting is her career.
“Conducting picked me, more than I picked it,” she said. “But through conducting I realized I can still be a musician, and be expressive, and share my thoughts about music and my interpretation of music. It just wasn’t going to be me and an instrument, it was going to be me and an ensemble, so the choir or the orchestra became the instrument.
“A negative very much turned into a positive that way.”
She replaces Jennifer Rodgers, who served as the group’s artistic director and conductor for three years. Rodgers was the first woman to lead the Everett Chorale in its 55-year history.
Garbes, 46, is the founder and artistic director of the Mägi Ensemble of Seattle. Named for Ester Mägi, known as the “First Lady of Estonian Music,” the women’s ensemble specializes in Baltic music.
“My area of focus has been in Baltic and Scandinavian folk music, and this position is much more broad,” Garbes said. “One concert can be a master with an orchestra and the next concert can be community outreach. I was looking through the library and there’s just a variety of music — that really intrigued me as well.
“There’s such a great opportunity for different performances and different types of performances, everything from Medieval to Broadway.”
Garbes holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of Washington.
In addition to serving as a choral conductor, Garbes is a music director and orchestral conductor for musical theater productions in the Seattle area. She has worked on 70 productions, including for Village Theatre, Youth Theatre Northwest and ArtsWest.
Garbes is an affiliate assistant professor of Scandinavian music at the UW. She also serves as the conductor of the Finnish Choral Society of Seattle. Garbes is a member of St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir in Seattle, where she is a soprano soloist, cantor and sectional leader. She also is the past president of the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium.
The Everett Chorale’s Artist Director Search Committee had a tough decision to make: five applicants had doctorates in music and conducting.
”She had a lot of attributes that reminded us of our previous director, so that helped,” said Heather Burke, a member of the search committee. “We wanted it to be a smooth transition, where it didn’t feel abrupt or too different than where we already were, because we were heading in the direction we wanted to be going. We felt like she would be the best fit to continue that.”
After earning a doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Washington, Rodgers accepted a position at Iowa State University. She now is the assistant director of choral activities and an assistant voice professor at Iowa State.
“We thought she might be short term, because she was a student, but we really loved her,” Burke said. “She made a huge difference in our choir, so she was worth the risk. It wasn’t unexpected — and it was good timing that she gave notice during COVID-19.”
Garbes picked up the violin at 4. She still plays — most recently she performed with the Vashon and Bainbridge chorales — she just doesn’t play at the level she was playing before her tendon was severed in a car crash in 1999.
“I can play one or two special concerts, but my hand is damaged to the point where I can’t do hours of practice to prepare regularly for performances,” she said.
The Everett Chorale, founded in 1966, sings at the Everett Silvertips and Aquasox games, the Evergreen State Fair and the Festival of Trees at the Angel of the Winds Arena. There are 90 members.
Burke, who has been with the Everett Chorale for eight years, said Garbes will continue the group’s work to serve Snohomish County through ensemble performances. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a performance for your organization or community event.
“As the chorale moves forward to gathering and singing together again, we know Heather will help us rebuild and find our way — making beautiful music as we go,” Burke said.
In addition to its new artistic director, the Everett Chorale has announced its 2021-2022 season, featuring concerts in December, March and June. Each performance includes a song from a canceled concert from 2020. The group was just a few weeks away from performing a March concert when COVID-19 hit Snohomish County.
December’s concert will feature Mendelssohn’s “There Shall I Star from Jacob Come Forth” from “Christus,” Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” and “Ave Maria” by Biebl.
In March, the Everett Chorale performance will include “Mozart’s “Adoramus te, Christe,” “Abendlied” by Rheinberger and Mechem’s “Blow Ye, the Trumpet.”
June’s concert will feature Gjeilo’s “The Ground,” “An die Musik” by Schubert and Ticheli’s “Earth Song.”
The songs from 2020’s canceled concert are as follows: Gjello’s “Northern Lights” in December, Betinis’ “Love is Love is Love is Love” in March and Hella Johnson’s “Let the River Run” in June.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; email@example.com; @sarabruestle.
If you stream
Heather MacLaughlin Garbes has been selected as the next artistic director of the Everett Chorale. She is the founder of the Mägi Ensemble, the conductor of the Finnish Choral Society and a member of St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir. Watch a Q&A with the Everett Chorale’s new artistic director on YouTube. Call 425-267-0150 or go to www.everettchorale.org for more information.