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Front Porch: Return to symphony is a return to first symphonic love

I was a teenager when I first heard Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau.” Its beautiful melodies just washed over and through me, and I was captured.

Of course, I’d heard classical music before, mostly as background in Disney films (Mussorgsky’s scary “Night on Bald Mountain” in the film “Fantasia,” for example) and knew the first four notes of Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony, but I was not so familiar with this kind of music as an entity of its own merit.

After all the years between my aha moment at age 17 and now, symphonic music has again reached from the past to give me a special surprise gift. And right when I needed it.

What I loved about “The Moldau,” for someone not versed in the nuances of classical music, was that, in addition to how beautiful it sounded to me, I could easily understand it. As a tone poem – a single-movement piece that paints a picture or tells a continuous story – it musically portrays the journey of the Czech Republic’s national river. In German, it’s called the Moldau; in Czech, it’s the Vltava (the common name used today).

Depicted in the piece are instruments representing the joining of small streams to form the river, sounds of a hunting party and then a raucous wedding along its banks at the edge of the Bohemian Forest, the quiet of nighttime, the rushing of rapids as it flows through the capital city of Prague and, finally, a softness as the river flows into and merges with a larger body of water.

Close your eyes and listen. It’s all there.

And so, as an adult, I’ve attended live symphonies and listened often, to all varieties of symphonic music.

With our friends Ed and Marie, we attend Spokane Symphony concerts. When he was a teenager, Ed worked at a classical music radio station and is well educated about the music. The four of us normally talk together about each upcoming season and select the concerts we’ll attend, relying strongly on Ed’s expertise and opinions.

We’ve seen and heard some surprising music, including some country western guest artists, operatic ones and, most recently, a traditional Salish hymn with tenor Sulustu (Barry Moses) of the Spokane Language House. And, of course, many of the well- and lesser-known classics.

And then came COVID. And the live music stopped.

Ed and Marie returned to the Spokane Symphony when concerts were available again, but we didn’t. My husband had a rough go through COVID, so we needed to wait awhile longer before being comfortable out in crowds, even masked.

We weren’t really confident about attending this current season, so our friends went ahead and got tickets for just the two of them again. And then we decided it really was time to rejoin the world of music and be present for it … live.

Ed went ahead and got us tickets close to where they were sitting … and so we started anew last month.

We hadn’t even checked out the works that would be performed in our Take Five series. On Sept. 17, we attended the Masterworks 1 concert titled “A Place Called Home.” At the preconcert lecture, James Lowe, music director, talked about the concert and how it all fits into a sense of home.

The first work, he said, would be about a river that runs through the heart of a city, just like the Spokane River runs through our own city.

“The Moldau.”

There it was, the beautiful symphonic poem that first brought me to this kind of music, performed live. It felt like a gift-wrapped welcome back. Back to a place where the heart is stimulated and the soul is warmed and filled with beautiful sounds and feelings.

Music will do that. Thankfully.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at

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