Tuned into the lunch crowd


A place to enjoy some of the Walla Walla area’s best musicians and singers while munching a brown bag lunch?

It exists in the First Thursday concerts, held the first Thurdays of each month fall through spring at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

No baloney.

The audience can bring their ears and their lunch for free. Each session at the church, a few blocks south of downtown at 323 Catherine St., includes a variety of artists who start performing at 12:15 p.m. Geared toward a working audience as well as the entire community, the performances run about 45 minutes.

Jazz pianist Gary Hemenway, who teaches music at Whitman College, is on deck for this Thursday’s performance.

“Many people are very generous in giving their time and talents” for performances, said Marcia Wilke, associate minister of music.

The concerts are free but donations are encouraged. All the proceeds go toward the charity of the performer’s choice.

“It’s a place to have lunch and enjoy music,” Wilke said. Since the fall of 2011 she has been lining up performers for the concerts.

The lunch concert season at the church runs from October to June. They include a wide variety of performers and music chosen, and quality and suitability is always in the forefront, she said.

Among First Thursday performers, many have come from the city’s three colleges, the Walla Walla Symphony, Walla Walla Valley Academy and several other schools.

January’s performance, for example, featured classical guitarist Michael J. LeFevre, who teaches the instrument as a member of Walla Walla University’s adjunct music faculty. He studied classical guitar at the Willoughby School of Fine Arts, Kent State University and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 1992 at Cornish College of the Arts.

Among LeFevre’s accomplishments, in 1995 was the top prize winner at the International Guitar Congress Competition in Greece and more recently has performed with Seattle’s symphony and opera.

Wilke’s motivation to bring music to the community arises from her own involvement in church music since she was 7 years old.

Someone years ago mentioned to her that “you pray through music,” she said. “Music has helped me through some rough times.”

The concerts are usually well attended and donations to the charities vary. For 2012, donations amounted to $1094.96 given to eight local charities, she said.

Since 2011, those organizations have included the Pantry Shelf, Christian Aid Center, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, Friends of Children of Walla Walla, Red Cross, Blue Mountain Humane Society, Milton-Freewater Breadbasket, Embracing Orphans of Jamaica, Walla Walla Downtown Foundation, Walla Walla Music Boosters, Helpline/YWCA Women’s Shelter and the Rising Son Clubhouse.

Wilke said First Thursday continues to recruit performers, often at the recommendation of local college music departments.

“I’m trying to do it a year ahead to get them booked early,” Wilke said. “I am amazed at the amount of music in this town and the quality.”


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