Sonja Rennings Gourley
Sonja Gourley, soprano and string bass performer, resides in College Place, Washington, where she serves as an adjunct voice teacher at Walla Walla University. A frequent soloist, Gourley has sung with the Walla Walla and the Mid-Columbia symphonies and was soloist with the American Choral Directors' Association choir during its Northwest regional convention in 1995.
She was a featured recitalist during WWC's centennial in 1992. Of particular note was her work as vocal soloist with Donne e Doni, an ensemble that also included Susan Pickett, violinist, and Debra Richter, pianist. Their performances of works by women composers attracted national attention and led to an appearance on ABC television's Good Morning America in 1996.
Sonja was born in College Place, Washington, one of seven children of Manford T. and Frances Versteg Rennings. She grew up in a family where singing was an important activity in the home. A particularly memorable experience that would lead to a decision to pursue music seriously happened in the fourth grade when she and three of her siblings competed in an amateur hour and won first place in their division by singing "Mocking Bird Hill," a popular song at that time.
She started music lessons on the piano and flute at an early age and taught herself other instruments, including tuba, becoming fascinated with its bass line. That interest led to the playing of the string bass, which she has thoroughly enjoyed for many years.
While interested in these other areas, however, her primary focus in performance became singing. She would become a sought-after soloist noted for the crystal clear quality and range of her voice, musicality, and adeptness at singing the most complex solos in the literature.
Sonja attended Upper Columbia Academy and Walla Walla Valley Academy in Washington, and then moved to Farmersburg, Indiana, where she lived with a sister for two years and graduated from North Central High School. She returned to Washington, where she attended Walla Walla College, now University, and completed a B. Mus. in music education in 1969. While at WWC, she studied voice with Melvin Davis and Harold Lickey, both of whom were major influences in her development as a singer and musician.
She particularly appreciated her experience in the instrumental methods classes, which at that time were rigorous. During this time she developed a proficiency on string bass that would lead to its being a secondary performance area.
Gourley taught at Greater Miami Academy from 1969 to 1971 and subsequently on a part-time basis at Clara E. Rogers Elementary School in College Place and at Walla Walla University. She has taught as an adjunct faculty member at WWU since 1986.
She is a member of ACDA and the International Society of Bassists (ISB). In addition to her numerous vocal performances throughout the Pacific Northwest, Gourley played string bass in the Walla Walla Symphony for nearly twenty years, serving as section principal for many of those years.
Sources: Information provided by Gourley in 2004 and May 2012; personnel records in the music department at WWU; Karlene Ponti, "Music an ever-present accompaniment in CP native's life," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 17 August 2008, C6; Personal Knowledge.