Cathedrals XXV: The Gundersen Family and Whitney Ballen
St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, WA
The 25th Cathedrals show at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral honored the first by having The Gundersen Family back, who opened the first ever Cathedrals show produced by the Fremont Abbey. Even though St. Mark’s is a massive building, it provided a serene, almost intimate atmosphere.
Opening the night was Issaquah’s Whitney Ballen. Self-described as “singing and playing bad guitar since 2005,” her tongue-in-cheek and shy nature immediately endeared her to the crowd. Simplicity was the name of the game when it came to Ballen’s music. Slow strums of her guitar and her gentle, haunting voice resonated throughout the high ceilings of the church. Her songs evoked vulnerability and her unassuming nature drew you in. Covering iconic artists is always a risk and ending with one is a bit bigger of one. However, she nailed her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” with, again, the simplicity of her voice.
The cathedral’s acoustics are difficult at best for musicians that have amplification. This proved to be a challenge for Abby, Jonny, Lizzy, and Noah Gundersen’s 4-part harmonies. However, they made it look easy.
The Gundersens are immensely talented siblings. Lizzy is a talented songwriter, Abby is a multi-instrumentalist, Jonny is part of a pop-rock group named Clone Wolf, and Noah is a critically acclaimed, national touring musician with a large following.
The siblings surrounded Noah to sing traditional holiday songs such as “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas” and then went to the altar to perform originals by all members of the family. Their 4-part harmonies soared to the rafters and blanketed the sold-out crowd on the rainy, wintry evening.
Family affairs are a special occasion. The chemistry is natural and it is an opportunity that does not come often. One of the beautiful moments of the night was when Abby played a solo piano piece and each of her siblings looked on intently and full of pride.
The Gundersens can arguably be called the first family of Seattle music and brought the largest crowd in the 25-show history of the Cathedrals series. Noah spoke of community before their last piece and encouraged everyone in the crowd to surround the piano and come together. Their last song was “Silent Night,” and it was a picture of camaraderie and community. A sing-along with strangers they will remember forever.
It was another set of music based in simplicity. Whether it be one piano and three microphones, or two microphones flanked by three candles on each side, they only relied on their voices and maybe an instrument. Cathedrals XXV may have been in a lavish setting, but it is the stripped-down nature and raw vulnerability that makes these nights so special.
Review and photos by Phillip Johnson
The Gundersen Family