Forte: Can you name that tune?


Pianist Steven Mayer

In a season built around musical storytelling, this Saturday’s concert by the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and Chorus holds a special place, as each selection on the program ties together a host of seemingly unrelated story lines. Anyone looking at this concert page in the YSO season program booklet will find a list of classical music titles, most of which may appear to be unfamiliar. But behind each of those titles is music that for many in the audience will be instantly recognizable.

To take just one example: You might have first heard one selection on the program as a child, riding the Disneyland Railroad. Almost as long as there has been a Disneyland, this music has accompanied one of the dioramas the railroad now passes on the journey between Tomorrowland and Main Street Stations, forever implanted in the subconscious of millions upon millions of visitors over more than six decades.

For those of an age to remember cigarette advertising, the same selection was woven into a trademark sing-song advertising jingle that was heard for decades on countless programs sponsored by a tobacco company in the heart of the “golden age” of radio. In 1933, 4-foot Johnny Roventini was billed as “The Smallest Bellboy in the World,” working at the New Yorker hotel in Manhattan’s garment district, when an advertising executive asked him to page a Mr. Philip Morris in the lobby, which he did. His trademark B-flat holler (perfectly in tune with the music) launched a 40-year career that took him all over the world and face-to-face with movie stars and U.S. presidents, again reaching millions upon millions of listeners (not to mention viewers of “I Love Lucy,” among other television programs).

More recently, you might have heard this music in the movie “A Christmas Story,” as Ralphie dreams vividly of fending off bandits with what he is sure will soon be his new Red Ryder BB gun. Composer Paul Zaza noted in an interview with WQXR that the film’s director chose this selection because it was emblematic of the American West, and because “everybody, whether they think they know it or not, they’ve heard it.”

So what is this music that links all of these stories? Well, that’s the fun of a program called “Name That Tune” — you’ll know it as soon as you hear it!

One selection on the concert that probably everyone does know by name is George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which will be performed by pianist Steven Mayer and has been used as theme music for United Airlines since 1987. As a special bonus, and for something completely different, Mayer also will be joined by Maestro Lawrence Golan on violin for a duo recital Thursday, Feb. 27, at The Seasons Performance Hall, to include two of the all-time great sonatas for violin and piano by Johannes Brahms and César Franck.

• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at

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