When they were still the technology of choice, most kids used tape recorders to listen to other people sing, rarely to record and improve their own vocal talents.
However, that's exactly how Rocky Blumhagen developed his singing abilities as a child, with a Sony reel-to-reel recorder bought at Tallman's Drugs in Walla Walla several decades ago.
When violinists and cellists with the Walla Walla Symphony strike the opening notes of their Valentine concert in Cordiner Hall just a few days from now they will be accompanied by that same voice of Blumhagen, now an adult and a professional singer, who will be returning home to the Valley where he was born and raised.
Conducted by Maestro Yaacov Bergman, the symphony will play the songs of Cole Porter, including such romantic classics as "Let's Do It, (Let's Fall in Love)" and "I Get a Kick Out of You," songs that Blumhagen is excited to perform in a venue where he has many fine memories.
"I remember when Cordiner Hall was built and dedicated in 1968," Blumhagen began. "I attended a John Gary concert about a year later and remember sitting in the audience and thinking, ‘Someday I'm going to return here and sing a concert on that stage.'"
His prediction came true and he would go on to perform many more concerts around the world in the years that followed.
Blumhagen has a deep connection to the Valley. His mother's family came to the region on the Oregon Trail and his parents lived in the same house on Appleton Road for nearly 50 years. His uncle Fred Etling also played bassoon for the Walla Walla Symphony for many years.
So when Blumhagen returns to the Walla Walla Valley to sing the songs of Cole Porter - music he is very familiar with, after he created his own tribute show to Porter featuring arrangements by award-winning musician, composer and conductor Ron Abel - it inspires him in a special way.
"A good example is one of the Cole Porter songs I'll sing, ‘Don't Fence Me In,'" he said. "It's about wide-open spaces and I think about the beautiful Blue Mountains. I grew up looking at the Blues every day of my life and one of our favorite summer pastimes was hunting for morel mushrooms in the foothills of the Blues."
While he might have grown up looking at the local scenery, the countryside of Milton-Freewater was many thousands of miles away when McLoughlin High School Class of 1969 alum Blumhagen was honing his skills and developing his professional repertoire.
He performed more than 1,500 nightclub shows in Germany and the United Kingdom as part of a two-man group called "Winston and Gale Enger." His passion for the music of Cole Porter also took him to the Palm Springs Art Museum in California, where the Porter project began and continues as a charity fundraiser.
Now that he is performing a concert in a location as large as Cordiner Hall, Blumhagen is looking forward to a different challenge.
"The venue size is larger than what I am used to working with, but Cordiner Hall has marvelous acoustics and I hope to be on the larger stage and still have it be an intimate experience for everyone in the audience."
Blumhagen has kept that youthful enthusiasm for performing, and he is thrilled to sing on the stage he wished and dreamed about when he was a young boy.
"Meeting Maestro Bergman has made that long ago dream come true," he said. "It will be fun to see old friends and classmates and have the opportunity to sing with the renowned Walla Walla Symphony."