"December is always a great time in Walla Walla," said Neal Christopherson, director of institutional research at Whitman College. "Even if the weather is gloomy and the days are short, there are so many community events, both at Whitman and in Walla Walla, and that helps make the mood around town feel more festive and celebratory."
This year, Christopherson and others in the Whitman community banded together to contribute to the seasonal cheer through the release of "Tis the Season in the Valley," a compilation of holiday songs. Sales from the CD and downloads will go towards the Hannah MacDonald Scholarship Fund for Families in the Hospitality Industry.
The compilation has 12 tracks and includes such Christmas classics as "Silent Night" performed by Audrey Renaud and original songs like "Tis the Season in the Valley," the title track performed by Mark Brown and Friends.
Christopherson sang and played rhythm guitars and piano on a 19th-century hymn. Assisting Christopherson were bassist Michael Simon and guitarist Phil Lynch of Whitman's Music Department, and Steven Aslin '18 played drums.
For Christopherson, the project provides a great example of how involved Whitman's staff and faculty are in the Walla Walla community. "Music can be a great way to bring people together," he said.
The call for musicians in the Whitman and Walla Walla communities to unite came courtesy of Interfaith Chaplain Adam Kirtley, who also served as the project's producer and contributed vocals and guitar with his band, Rogue Lobster.
"I identified myself from the very beginning as the executive producer of the whole thing because I felt like there needed to be somebody in charge, and we wanted the whole record to have some sort of a cohesive sound to it," Kirtley said.
The project took 11 months to complete and is an eclectic mix of various music genres. Kirtley became inspired to produce the project after he performed at a fundraising event MacDonald held for the scholarship. Other Whitman community members who contributed to "Tis the Season" are Libby Miller, Doug Scarborough, Bill Bogard, Abigail Rolfe and the Whitman College Chamber Singers.
The Hannah MacDonald Scholarship Fund for Families in the Hospitality Industry was created in 2016 by Hannah MacDonald, the founder and former chef of Brasserie Four. The fund provides financial support and college scholarships for employees in the hospitality industry and their children based on financial need and merit.
When Kirtley approached MacDonald about the idea to record a collection of holiday songs to raise funds for the scholarship, he stated that she became extremely excited. "To be honest, I think in Hannah's mind it was those hard-working folks who are underpaid and under respected. Not only her restaurant, but all for that the valley has to offer right now in terms of food and wine, it's on the backs of those folks," Kirtley said.
"Tis the Season in the Valley" is available at the Whitman Bookstore and at various tasting rooms and restaurants in Walla Walla, and a digital version can be downloaded online. The price is $10. Kirtley hopes to raise $1,000 for the scholarship.
"The lyrics to ‘Tis the Season in the Valley' really have a lot to do with being friendly to your neighbor and checking in with folks that you care about, which is ultimately what I think the whole project is about," Kirtley said.