Columns & Blogs

Bellingham’s Ray Downey left musical legacy

Longtime Bellingham saxophonist Ray Downey died of esophageal cancer on Dec. 26.

Downey played with The Saltwater Octet for about 10 years; with Saxquatch about 25 years; with the klezmer group Millie and the Mentshn for about two years; with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra for 25 years; and he had a trio that played receptions and private parties. He also privately taught saxophone, flute and clarinet to students ranging from elementary-school-age children to people in their 70s.

Fellow saxophonist Mark Kelly, drummer Jud Sherwood and several other Bellingham musicians organized a benefit concert Nov. 21 at Mount Baker Theatre to help with Downey’s medical expenses. The Saltwater Octet played many of Downey’s arrangements; and he was able to attend.

A two-time recipient of the Mayor’s Arts Award, Downey also was an award-winning composer. I interviewed him in 2012 after he had just won second place in the prestigious Longfellow Chorus International Composer’s Competition for “Woods in Winter,” based on Longfellow’s poem of the same name.

He also wrote “Scenes from San Juan Island,” a piece for brass octet that was inspired by his reading about the Pig War and early island history. He composed a similar piece about the Peace Arch, and wrote a piece for soprano voice and clarinet called “A Quiet Place,” a klezmer piece using the text of another Longfellow poem called “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport.”

Here are a few comments from Downey from the 2012 interview:

“I started the clarinet in fifth-grade at my elementary school. I enjoyed it from the start and kept at it.”

“I was enamored with a poster in the band room of the saxophone family, and that became my fantasy to play the saxophone. Before I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to be a musician.”

“I like to listen to a lot of different styles of music. I come from JAZZ! but I also love to listen sometimes to classical music like Stravinsky, Copland, Ravel, Beethoven and Bach. I also get inspiration from listening to ethnic music; it’s like going on an exotic vacation.”

“And I love performing. To me, it’s my version of community service.”

Downey also taught hundreds of students over the years, many of whom submitted condolences after Mark Kelly sent out an email about Downey’s passing.

A few comments from his fellow musicians:

“Downey was one of those folks whose music encouraged others. I wonder how many folks got helped along, and encouraged by this man’s ability to see the worth of each of us,” wrote Chris Lunn of Ancient Victorys magazine.

“He was a gentle soul, a wonderful and creative musician and a unique and accomplished teacher,” wrote Bellingham pianist Bill MacDonough.

“He was sweet and funny and turned me on to amazing music; my ears were changed forever! Such an important architect for my musicianship,” wrote Tacoma flutist Roxanne Hreha.

Downey is survived by his wife, Diane Murphy, and other relatives. A public memorial for Downey will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 7 at Broadway Hall in Bellingham.

Jansen Art Center seeks works for spring exhibit

Lynden’s Jansen Art Center’s spring juried exhibit hopes to showcase some of the finest art being created in our region. The exhibit will run February through May with another exhibit, “From Dusk to Dawn: Twilight and Night Skies,” featuring artists’ views on morning or night.

The cost to submit to either exhibit is $10; the deadline to submit is Jan. 15. Submission guidelines for each show can be found at

Sue Boyton Contest encourages artists to submit work for community sites

The Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, in its 10th year, is seeking Whatcom County artists to design its 2015 placards. Four artists will each produce six to seven pieces of original art to illustrate winning poems.

The project will take place in April and artists need to complete the illustrations in a three-week period. Artists will receive $200 and exposure of their placards on transit buses and all community sites where winning poems are displayed. They also will have the opportunity to contribute art in future years, and retain all rights to their artwork.

To view previous placards designed by Egress Studio, go to the Boynton Blog winners page page and click on a poem title.

The contest is also seeking artwork for the cover of the 10-year anthology of winning poems. Artists’ submissions will be considered for the cover art as well.

To be considered, submit three photos of your artwork, along with contact information, to

Submissions will be accepted through Jan. 15. Selected artists will be notified by Feb. 15.