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Precise cowboys delight audience

Tue., Feb. 7, 2012

On Saturday night, Riders in the Sky joined the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, delighting a capacity audience.

The program included “Tumbling Tumbleweed,” “Cool Water” and, of course, “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

Combining the cowboy music quartet with the orchestra might seem incongruous at first, but it is entirely natural, when one considers the origin of cowboy music.

At one point, Ranger Doug (Douglas B. Green), lead singer of the group, introduces a number as “an authentic cowboy song” of the kind sung on the hot, dusty roads of the American West. His comedic partner Too Slim (Fred LaBour) then dryly observed that the song, “Rawhide,” was actually composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, after walking “the dusty roads of western Ukraine” before coming to the United States to become the most prominent composer of music for the screen, specializing in scores for Western-theme pictures such as “High Noon” and “The Alamo.”

Cowboy music, in fact, has no direct link to cowboys. It owes its existence to the advent of motion pictures, and specifically “talking” pictures, which entertained men and women after World

War I.

It should be obvious that Riders in the Sky have not continued working together for 35 years simply by hoping for success to come their way; they have worked hard in every niche of the entertainment business, including the symphony circuit. Included in their show was an orchestral score that allowed the orchestra to shine without overwhelming the quartet.

There was an overture, reminiscent of the movie scores of Jerome Moross (“The Big Country”) and Elmer Bernstein (“Magnificent Seven”) that was brought off brilliantly. Throughout the program, the orchestra provided color and atmosphere, just as it would have behind the action of a film. In “South of the Border,” the trumpet section, led by Chris Cook, brightened their tone to suggest a mariachi band and added vividness and vitality to the number.

After giving more than 6,000 performances, Riders in the Sky could have been forgiven had they shown a bit of carelessness in their performance. But their precision and energy were unflagging, which allowed them to relax throughout the performance and share with the audience their joy in a great American musical tradition.

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