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‘From the Journals of Lewis and Clark’ the best GF Symphony show of year so far

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Think for a minute what it must have been like to travel up the entire Missouri River way back in 1804.

The Great Falls Symphony Orchestra and Choir perform "From the Journals of Lewis and Clark" together on Saturday.
The Great Falls Symphony Orchestra and Choir perform “From the Journals of Lewis and Clark” together on Saturday.

Food would be scarce, you’d run the risk of having a potential violent encounters with Natives on a daily basis, the weather could be sweltering hot one day and ungodly frigid the next. Life-threatening dangers could meet you every step of the way.

That’s what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark faced as they took this journey starting in St. Louis and ending on the coast of the Pacific Ocean while keeping pristine journals that explained in detail everything they encountered on the way.

On Saturday, the Great Falls Symphony orchestra and choir teamed up to provide patrons the chance to relive this adventure through the power of music.

Together these two fantastically talented groups performed “From the Journals of Lewis and Clark,” composed by Daniel Bukvich, a Butte native and professor of music at the University of Idaho.

Around 5 minutes in or so when the fiddle music hit high-gear, I started getting chills and realized that I was witnessing a celebration of our heritage, but more than that, I was witnessing quite possibly one of the best shows this group has ever done in some time.

It had everything you could want from a symphony show.

It had pulsating dramatic moments during the part titled “A Roaring Too Tremendious” that created a sense of wonder and glory that evoked images of the giant waterfalls and powerful currents of the Missouri River.

Koby Rowe joins the Great Falls Symphony to perform a piece by Mozart.
Koby Rowe joins the Great Falls Symphony to perform a piece by Mozart.

It had the emotional sweet moments during “Bird Woman” that saw the stringed instruments working in concert with the woodwinds perfectly in a way to evoke memories of Sacajawea, who’s name is translated into English to mean “Bird Woman.”

It had rip-roaring fun fiddle tunes during the opening section “Cruzatte’s Fiddle,” led by Mary Papaoulis, who before the show began received a tribute award for her contributions to the Great Falls symphony.

My favorite part of “Cruzatte’s Fiddle” was when the lights turned low and Mary got up and started dancing around while playing her fiddle.

What was funny was as soon as this part started I told myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Mary would stand up and start dancing and playing at the same time?” and then the fact that she did was a joy in of itself, as I had never seen this performance before.

The choir, for their part, created a gigantic wall of sound that added to the pure oomph that this piece demanded.

Whether they were singing Meriwether Lewis’ family motto “Omni Solum forti patraest,” and it’s English translation “Everything a Brave Man Does is For His Country” or were singing the various spellings of the Sioux found throughout the Lewis and Clark journals, this show would not have been nearly as a success if it were not for these singers who brought their A-game on Saturday night.

If I were to offer any kind of criticism it would be that having two narrators speaking over one another was a bit distracting at first, but by the third reading, I had grown accustomed to it and thought it added a nice style to the piece.

Narration was provided by Shannon Newth, Content Manager, Anchor and Producer for KRTV and long-time Fort Benton resident, Randy Morger, a retired business executive and former broadcaster who now serves as the Executive Director for the River & Plains historical society in Fort Benton.

They read short snippets of text before each reading began.

I could go on at length about the power and magnitude of this performance, but words will never do it justice. You kind of just had to be there to witness it for yourself.

Before getting to “From the Journals of Lewis and Clark,” the symphony performed two pieces with two young artists from Great Falls who were recent winners in the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras’ Young Artist Competition The Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras, Koby Rowe on violin and Edin Agamenoni on bassoon. Rowe is a freshman at CMR High School while Agamenoni is a senior there.

They both performed the lights out of their given pieces and made the most of this opportunity to play with the entire Great Falls Symphony. They both received well-deserved standing ovations, as well.

Finally, I’ll echo a bit about what conductor Gordon Johnson said about the symphony before they unleashed this masterpiece.

He said the level of talent shown on that stage was something that should be acknowledged and appreciated. While some might have taken that to be a bit arrogant, the way he said it, it seemed as if he was merely telling the truth.

These musicians that make up our symphony and choir are first-rate performers willing to do whatever it takes to give a performance for the ages.

And make no mistake, the show on Saturday night was certainly that.

I only wish that there were more people in the audience to see it, as there were more than a few empty seats both on the ground level and the balcony.

If the symphony ever chooses to perform this piece again, do yourself a favor and go see it.

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