When members of the Rogue Valley Chorale take to the stage in late April for performances celebrating the group's 40th anniversary, their black robes will be adorned with splashes of color ranging from sunny tangerine to deep plum.
The men will wear colorful flower boutonnieres, while the women will be draped in scarves hand-dyed by former Oregon Shakespeare Festival Costume Designer Jeanie Saint Germain, a member of the chorale.
Saint Germain has been working since late February to transform dozens of plain white silk scarves into blazes of color.
She's been putting in the extra work not only to mark the chorale's 40th anniversary, but to honor Lynn Sjolund, who founded the group and will step down as its artistic director and conductor after the anniversary performances in Medford on April 27-28.
"I really, really wanted to do something special for this performance and for Lynn," Saint Germain said.
"It will be my last concert," said Sjolund. "It's time for someone else to get joy out of conducting the group. It's really a time of transition for them and me and the community."
Earlier this week, Sjolund joined Saint Germain for a scarf-dying session in her sun-filled studio in the countryside outside Medford.
Saint Germain had a row of finished scarves lined up on a work table.
Because of their high voices, the sopranos in the 100-plus member chorale will wear light, vivid colors in the yellow and orange range.
The colors of the scarves will deepen for the members with lower voices, with the altos draped in rich maroons, burgundies and plums.
"It should be just wonderful. I can close my eyes and see it," said Sjolund, noting that it was Saint Germain's idea to decorate the singers' black robes with colorful scarves.
Saint Germain, who agreed to do the work to make her idea a reality, estimated she's put in about 80 hours so far on the project.
Dying batches of scarves three at a time is a labor-intensive process filled with trial and error.
"This is a little like cooking and a little like chemistry and a lot of prayer," Saint Germain said. "It's not an exact science."
To demonstrate her process, Saint Germain mixed different dye powders with rubbing alcohol and boiling water, then added the dissolved mixture to water and vinegar in an industrial-sized soup vat that she has in her costume design studio.
Using a pulley system, she lowered white scarves into the vat, then stirred the brew with a raft oar.
Peering into the vat, Saint Germain mused, "I don't know. A little more salt? A little more pepper?"
"Maybe some cumin," Sjolund suggested.
Saint Germain later pulled out the scarves, ready to snip off a square from a silk test strip to see how the color was developing.
"Scalpel, please," she said as Sjolund handed her a pair of fabric scissors.
The test fabric revealed that the color was not vivid enough, so Saint Germain returned to her potions of dyes so she could ramp up the intensity.
Sjolund said he's always impressed when Saint Germain comes up with costume design ideas for special performances. She once designed full costumes for a chorale performance of 19th century composer Felix Mendelssohn's work about Elijah, a Biblical prophet.
"Other things she's done, they're just gorgeous," he said. "They look like the kinds of things one would wear at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival."
Saint Germain worked for OSF from the 1960s into the early 1990s while also raising four children. In her early days, she had to design costumes for all 11 plays put on each season.
Later, as OSF grew and added more staff members, that was reduced to about half the plays for each season.
Saint Germain is still enthusiastic about costume design, revealing her perfectionist nature with the scarf project.
Both she and Sjolund are also still passionate about music. Saint Germain has sung with the chorale for more than 20 years.
Sjolund said the anniversary performances will feature light-hearted pieces as well as deeply moving works by Johannes Brahms that express a universal spirituality.
"If they don't move you, you're a stone," Saint Germain said.
Sjolund added, "There's always more to discover with a piece of music if it's good."
The anniversary performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.
Tickets are $5 for students and $10 to $20 for adults depending on seat location.
The Rogue Valley Chorale also participates in the Performing Arts Access program, which allows anyone with an Oregon Trail Card to buy two tickets for $5 each.
Oregon Trail Cards are like debit cards that can be used by low income people to buy food. The card system replaced food stamps in the state.
To purchase tickets, including discounted Performing Arts Access tickets, call the Craterian box office at 541-779-3000.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.