What to listen for as the leaves fall in Walla Walla

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By November we’ve settled into our school-year routines and are stacking up firewood. Time for some musical refreshment!

Music is, after all, universal among humans.

Everybody needs it, and it may be that only a tiny minority of us can live without it. (The minority: those with the rare condition amusia, from which Che Guevara suffered.)

Don’t deprive yourself of November’s local bounty. Here’s a taste:

The Whitman College music department presents semester concerts of its major ensembles in Chism Recital Hall on Park Street between Boyer Avenue and Alder Street:

Wind Ensemble, Nov. 13; Jazz, Nov. 14; Choir and Chamber Singers, Nov. 15, all at 7:30 p.m.; and Orchestra at 3 p.m. Nov. 17.

I can’t focus on everything presented in these concerts without filling the entire newspaper with enthusiastic but insufficient musical prose. Writing about music is, as they say, like dancing about architecture.

Beethoven once played a sonata to an admiring private audience. After he finished a woman said to him, “Very beautiful, but what does it mean?” Beethoven simply returned to the keyboard and played the piece again.

I focus on one piece in the choral concert, “The Heart’s Reflection,” by Daniel Elder, a young composer living in Nashville.

The piece is based on the text, “Just as water reflects the face, so does one heart reflect another.”

It’s written for an eight-part chorus and provides a deeply meditative and uplifting spiritual experience.

To rekindle your innate love of the human spirit, don’t miss this piece. Jeremy Mims conducts. Free.

The Whitman Orchestra is performing, among other masterpieces, Anton Arensky’s “Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky,” based on a tune you may find familiar, from Tchaikovsky’s “Sixteen Songs for Children,” written in 1883.

Arensky’s riff on the original came only 11 years later, just one year after Tchaikovsky’s tragic death, and the song whose theme he used was Tchaikovsky’s “Legend: Christ in His Garden.”

Interestingly, the words of the song are a Russian translation of an American poem, “Roses and Thorns” by Richard Henry Stoddard.

Patrons of the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival will remember Arensky from a performance last June.

He was Russian and died in 1906. Although precocious and (as you will hear) highly gifted, he was soon forgotten after his untimely death from tuberculosis.

His real strength was chamber music, and this piece is a transcription, for string orchestra, of the slow movement of his second string quartet. Paul Luongo conducts. Free.

Readers with children, younger or older, will want to attend the Walla Walla Symphony’s Youth and Family Concert on Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall, Park Street.

This is a foodraiser concert; admission is free with a can of food (or other nonperishable food donation) to be collected for the area food bank.

One source of delight for me is always the arrival of bright new talent. Here that role is taken by Kyli Humphreys, a Walla Walla High School senior who regularly wins regional prizes for her French horn playing.

She will play, with the Walla Walla Symphony, the third movement of Mozart’s “Horn Concerto No. 3.”

And for those who like “multimedia” presentations, the show will also include the delightful piece “The Orchestra Games” by Gregory Smith, with Kevin Loomer narrating.

“The Orchestra Games” is a composed “competition” among the instruments of the orchestra: trumpet, French horn, etc. The narrator “interviews” the competitors, as in a sporting contest, and sets challenges such as the low note limbo.

Readers who have so far not found themselves interested in so-called “classical” music should really give these events a try. It turns out that you don’t have to stop liking anything else (bluegrass, pops) to start liking this. There are nuggets lying at your feet.

Not all events are mentioned here. Check the websites bit.ly/17DEacX for Whitman events and bit.ly/1b31gIm for events at Walla Walla University. Walla Walla Valley Bands are at wwvalleybands.org/.

John Jamison teaches in the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College and serves on the board of the Walla Walla Symphony. He retired to Walla Walla in 2003 from a teaching career in Seattle. He can be reached at john@studiodosrios.com.

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