By Eileen Brown
When someone moves away from Whidbey Island, you'd think it'd make room for one more. But when that person is Kit Ketcham, you'd need three or four to take up the slack. And for many of us who are just getting to know her, it's a shame we didn't meet before now at church or catch her entertaining, singing with every emotion in her body.
Before we say goodbye to Rev. Elizabeth "Kit" Ketcham of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island in Freeland, we must acknowledge her unique gifts. They include hours of singing as part of the Bayview Sound, pickers and singers creating harmonies audiences love from American roots music: old country, folk, old rock and roll, bluegrass, blues, that sort of thing.
“There are four of us and we specialize in three- and four-part harmonies which are pretty darned nice,” Ketcham offered. “The instruments we use are guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, viola, fiddle, keyboard and, of course, voice. I don't know how to play anything, so they let me just sing.”
Members found each other at a popular acoustic jam session in Langley four years ago. “At first, we just sang together for the fun of creating harmonies that felt and sounded good to us and our listeners,” she said. “Then we were invited to perform for such groups as Good Cheer, WAIF, WISH, Farm Bureau picnics, on KWPA, at Postcards from Whidbey and private parties.”
As time went on, they became close friends as they learned to sing together and to create arrangements that showcase their voices and instruments. Her fellow musicians are Lynn and Debbie Cantwell of Coupeville and Richard Hughes of Langley.
“The band has been important to me because it has given me a private life separate from my beloved congregation, the Unitarian Universalists of Whidbey Island,” she said. She has always been an independent thinker and in the 1960s gravitated to Unitarian Universalism whose open-minded, social-justice-oriented approach to religion felt more comfortable to her.
”Ministry is my fifth career,” she said, “the final professional phase of a life spent variously as a welfare worker, an inner-city community center worker (AKA Baptist home missionary), a teacher and a school counselor.” After spending 50 years helping humans, she is considering volunteering with non-humans (animals) for a change.
Back to the band, it has fulfilled a dream. She always wanted to sing, wearing a red satin dress, leaning into the curve of a grand piano. In reality, she is thrilled to wear jeans and boots as they sing bluegrass, blues, rock and roll, and country tunes.
The group has been singing at Click Music Hall in Oak Harbor for a couple of months now. Click Music, located on 7th Ave. between Highway 20 and Midway Blvd., provides many musical services from sales of instruments and musical paraphernalia, sheet music, music books, lessons with terrific instructors, jams/singalongs, and now regular performances in their expansive new hall. Proprietor is Avi Rostov, who makes a practice of hiring young musicians as staff, and has as her goal to expand the musical offerings in Oak Harbor.
Their next Click gig will be on Friday, April 6, at 7PM.
“I will miss singing with the band when I retire and move off-island, to Astoria, Ore.,” Ketcham said. “When I was a kid, my family spent a week every summer at the Cannon Beach Bible Conference, a freebie because my Dad was a Baptist minister and this was a privilege extended to clergy. As I grew up, my love for the north Oregon coast grew too and I decided that someday I would come back and live there. Astoria is a small city that has always fascinated me, for its history and its proximity to the Columbia River and the Pacific, so I hope to find my home there.”
The move means she will be close to family members but she will treasure the past six years. “What a wonderful place to live and serve and sing!”