In the modern era of ear buds and digital access to nearly every song in the world, music has almost become background noise - that's something that Whitman College's Fridays at Four concert series is trying to change.
"Going to live music concerts is kind of off-the radar. We're trying to turn that around," said John David Earnest, an adjunct assistant professor of music. Earnest not only teaches music composition courses he composes music himself. At the second Fridays at Four concert of the semester on Feb. 15, four of Earnest's compositions will be performed by fellow Whitman faculty members, vocalist and senior lecturer Diane Gray-Chamberlain and pianist and senior lecturer Jackie Wood.
Held multiple times each semester in the Chism Recital Hall, the Fridays at Four series offers an intimate but informal venue for students, faculty and Walla Walla locals to partake in a musical experience that is deeply moving. From Afro-Cuban music to classical improvisation to Chinese ensemble, the concerts provide the community with an opportunity to engage with one another over music. Performers include Whitman faculty, regional artists, guest faculty from area colleges and alumni.
For the Feb. 15 session, Gray-Chamberlain and Wood will perform a series of African-American spirituals, which date back to 18th and 19th century. They will conclude by performing four pieces composed by Earnest.
"These songs were sung as field and work songs - a product of a tragic time in American history," Earnest said. "The words in these spirituals are coded words that relate to or disguise ideas about escaping slavery. Most of the codes are written in biblical language; they are references to crossing river Jordan, references to the promise land."
Both Gray-Chamberlain and Wood have experience performing spirituals. Gray-Chamberlain's experience with spirituals began in church when she was a young child, but she feels that they're deeply impactful on a human level.
"Spirituals have always spoken to me from when I was very little. My mother was a choir director and we had spirituals in church," Gray-Chamberlain said. "Spirituals have been special to me because of my background but also as a human being —‚humans can feel deep sorrow but at the same time have hope within them of something bigger than themselves. "
This week's Fridays at Four recital is from 4-5 p.m. in the Chism Recital Hall. See other upcoming recitals and concerts by the Department of Music.