As you may know, I'm spending the fall term in Spokane, WA as a visiting lecturer in Choral Music at Whitworth University, and thought I'd take some time to reflect on my experiences in the Inland Northwest thus far.
The city of Spokane itself is informally considered by its residents "a big small town," a description that I think suits it quite well. The downtown boasts a surprisingly large city scape from I-90, that probably seems even bigger than it is given that, however you slice it your passing a decent amount of wilderness on either end of your trip to get to Spokane. The Spokane river cuts the city in half, creating a centerpiece that frames in its center with a park and boasts multiple bridges, and a touristy hub complete with luxury shops, clothing retailers, restaurants, and an apple store. The population removed from these spots is pretty widely varied, and invokes the "small" part of the city's description. For someone that grew up in a fairly isolated (and now growing in its affluence) part of Maryland, I can relate to the hometown feel, and the pride the lifelong residents express for its resourceful and hardy citizens; the seasonal temperatures are more extreme than you'd think!
One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that Whitworth University is a fantastic institution, from the President on down. For starters (and an aesthetic standpoint), the campus is a wonderful amalgamation of coniferous and deciduous trees with grass that is kept better than the fairways at Congressional Country Club. The students are conscientious, driven, and multi-facted beyond that which is typical of a liberal arts student, or even the typical music student. In men's chorus alone I have two freshmen who are in "Jazz I," the top big band at the school. As a musician and educator who espouses these ideals myself, I find it an invigorating atmosphere in which to work. It is also refreshing to have inspiring colleagues who are constantly challenging their students, their ensembles and themselves. Take for example, the composers represented in the Whitworth Wind Symphony's fall concert repertory: Hindemith, Ives, and a Bach transcription alongside challenging works by living composers John Mackey, Michael Daugherty, and Steven Bryant. Trust me, thats a FULL program.
I, too, have posed several challenges to the Whitworth Choir, and also the combined choirs for this year's Whitworth Christmas Festival Concert which features all three choirs and orchestra. Among their music are sections of larger works by Felix Mendelssohn and Arthur Honegger. Needless to say, they are rising to the occasion, but thats for a whole other post. Perhaps I'll also update you on the race in the 5th congressional district between Lisa Brown and Cathy McMorris-Rogers then too, which has been, to say the least, an interesting slice of purple politics in America for which to be front and center.
Spokane's arts scene isn't exactly comprehensive, but it is complete with offerings in just about every medium and genre. I had the good fortune of taking in a spirited production of the Marriage of Figaro by Inland Northwest Opera that was quite well attended - their first at the proscenium theater downtown for a number of years; it's good to know opera is still on the rise. My uber driver mentioned to me one day that he was headed to the comedy club after he was finished driving one night, and yes there are a number of wine tasting rooms around from the noted parts of SE Washington. I've also been singing with Kantorei and Festival Singers based at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for their upcoming program "Come to the Woods: Northwest Beauty." I've met so many wonderful people through this process, which in many ways sums up the Spokane area very well: tight-knit.
This particular group is makes up nearly the whole of the choral music community in Eastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho, a mix of music educators at all levels, students, and dedicated community members. I've also learned my best tips about things around town spending time at a local watering hole, and having heartfelt conversations with people about whatever matters to them. It seems like (in a nutshell) that this interesting cross-section of people who call this part of the country home love being eclectic but bound together in the best ways. How grateful I am to be a part of something like that, even for a short time.