Bronwyn Jones, Anna Ancheta and Dora Dillman, three of Local Color’s finest. Photo by Marshall Smith
Bronwyn Jones, Anna Ancheta and Dora Dillman, three of Local Color’s finest. Photo by Marshall Smith

“It’s hard to lose one of our own,” said Anna Ancheta, director of Local Color, Idyllwild’s female a capella singing group. She spoke of the death last year of member Sabrina Verney and how her passing influenced a project that had begun several years before.

“Each year on Martin Luther King’s birthday, the group holds a retreat at Suzy Capparelli’s home in Palm Desert,” said member Bronwyn Jones. “Comments trigger songs. Someone says a word and we think of a song.” At the retreat two years ago, after a song was named, a member said she wanted that song at her memorial.

There was laughter but there was also the genesis of an idea — a project to record memorial songs for each of the 16 members.

Ancheta acknowledged that others might think the project a bit macabre, but for the group, it has special meaning. “It’s like the movie ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ except with us it’s ‘Four Funerals and a Wedding,’” she said. “We’ve sung at way too many memorials. So why not record songs for our own?”

The project, called “Singing for Our Lives,” after the song by Holly Near, took on special significance in November 2014 as Verney was dying. Verney had been battling pancreatic cancer and family members asked if the group might sing for her to help her through her passage. Local Color and many friends of Verney’s assembled at St. Hugh’s parking lot not far from Verney’s home on Tahquitz Drive. “I took out my portable piano and put it on my tailgate and started playing and teaching parts to the people who were there,” recalled Ancheta. “The people there were all friends of Sabrina. The sun had set and a November Mourning Moon had risen. We learned the parts and then all walked to her home and assembled on the deck outside her bedroom. Val [Velez] was inside with Sabrina, keeping her company as she made her transition. We sang ‘To My Old Brown Earth,’ not knowing if, in her state of consciousness, she would understand. When we finished, two hands came up inside the room and slowly clapped. Sabrina heard and understood.

“You don’t often get to be in that hallway [between this life and the next] with another. It was profoundly moving.”

As Ancheta, Jones and Dora Dillman remembered that experience, they evinced a sense of peace and purpose, and of the importance to them of this project.

At a recent recording session for the project, the group, a capella and female for its 23-year existence, added some male voices because the particular songs called for that sound. Ancheta, who both arranges for and directs the group, said they had already recorded eight, about half of the total for the CD. “We hope to have the recordings done by the end of the year,” she said. “Maybe by Christmas,” said Jones.

“I feel very lucky to be on this Earth with these people,” said Ancheta. “What we do leads to connection.”

Longtime member Dillman noted how singing together, in celebration and in adversity, sustains the members. “The beauty is in connecting to the lives of our members, our friends and our community,” she said. “We share our music. How beautiful it is to give support and love to our fellow singers.”

For 23 years that is what Local Color has done — singing for the Idyllwild community on so many occasions. And now they are also singing for themselves —singing for their lives.

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