Evening & Weekend Studies

Spring 2012 Stories

Singing in the Rain... and Snow... and Sunshine

By Kristine Gannie

Students who come to Evergreen with an interest in music find a number of ways to express themselves, from experimental composition and performance to creating and playing traditional instruments from a variety of cultures. Students who have a passion for singing find an atmosphere that is enjoyable and musically enriching in the college’s choral group – the Evergreen Singers.

The Singers are a group of students, faculty and staff who come together in a 2 credit program offered each quarter, taught by faculty member Marla Elliott, who serves as their director.

Marla Elliott Image Jonathan Levy Image
Marla Elliott and Jonathan Levy


“Marla is a dynamic teacher. She fosters an environment that is safe for new singers to reach their potential and for experienced singers to expand their potential and reach new heights,” says Evergreen student Jonathan Levy, who has been in the Singers for the past two years. “You can’t help but give your best.”

Along with creating a welcoming space for new and old singers, Elliott also incorporates themes based on academic programs, such as “Creative Complaints” in which the group sang songs chronicling daily nuisances. Last spring, the group sang about revolutions and social change movements from around the world.

Exploring musical relevance is something Elliott aims for. “I think it’s exciting to sing songs that aren’t just for the concert hall, but that have been sung in the streets and made a difference in people’s lives,” says Elliott, who has taught music and community studies at Evergreen since 1996 and has directed the Singers since 2004.

Elliott’s students appreciate thematic singing as well. “It keeps us focused, and the themes are usually broad enough that we are able to get music from all over the world,” Levy says. “There is bound to be at least one song you will like.” Recently, Elliott also incorporated shape-note singing, an American folk choral tradition dating back to the early 1800s. Levy took such a liking to it that he started his own shape note singing student group on campus. He hopes for a career in teaching, but plans to continue singing beyond graduation, and vows that he will take music with him wherever he goes.

The Evergreen Singers’ reach goes far beyond those who participate in the group. They perform each quarter, and are a staple at the college’s graduation ceremony each June. “The Singers are a perfect example of what the Evergreen community can be when students, faculty and staff get together to do something creative and beautiful,” says supporter John Carmichael, executive assistant to Evergreen President Les Purce.

In addition to the Evergreen Singers, Elliott is also a founding member of the feminist folk group The Righteous Mothers. The group, which began in 1981, flaunts political humor grounded in acoustic vocal harmonies, typified by one of their biggest hits, “Old Fat Naked Women for Peace.” Elliott’s passion for singing and teaching is clear. “Singing in a group is one of the most physically pleasurable things humans can do and we have to a very large extent been robbed of it. It is our birthright and we need to reclaim it,” she urges. Thankfully, The Evergreen Singers provide an opportunity to do just that.

Kristine Gannie, alumna of River Ridge High School in Lacey, Wash., graduated from Evergreen in 2011. She studied a wide variety of social justice issues and plans to attend law school and continue doing community work with underrepresented populations.