Duo tuned in to education, entertainment

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Traci and Spencer Hoveskeland got their starts as musicians in public schools in Port Angeles, Wash.

WALLA WALLA — In their shared career, Traci and Spencer Hoveskeland have traveled the world.

As the Bottom Line Duo, the musical couple has given concerts in Europe, Mexico, and Canada. Even across the Atlantic aboard ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2.

Their schtick is catchy — more like improv comedy with a great sound track than sober classical music pushers. As the Hoveskelands say on their website, “The Bottom Line Duo is one of three internationally touring bass and cello duos in history … Through strict discipline combined with a stage presence of joy and humor, the duo presents an evening of music from the Baroque period to today. A subplot of their romance, as well as their competitiveness, permeates the program along with bizarre musicological references — a hilarious ukulele piece and a final battle over ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee.’”

That’s a lot of words to what means, ultimately, a unique ensemble of bass and cello, presented in a chamber music fashion with anecdotes, virtuosity and refined comedy. Recently they’ve simplified the explanation, Spencer said Monday. “We say ‘Victor Borge meets Carol Burnett.’”

On Sunday, Walla Wallans can judge for themselves when Bottom Line Duo plays at Cordiner Hall at Whitman College at 7 p.m.

The concert is a fundraiser for Walla Walla Valley Academy’s orchestra with proceeds to cover traveling expenses for this year and next, including a tour in California and Europe, said the school’s music director Ben Gish.

Those trips cover a lot of experiential ground for his students, Gish explained. The musicians go in a ministry mode to play at churches, nursing homes, the state Legislature and more. “But I also like to take them to a big symphony to hear those. I try to do a mix of educational as well as service.”

Playing for others outside this Valley gives the teens incentive to attend practices and hone their playing, like any sport team making it to state, he said. “Plus they are developing lifelong skills. When they leave high school, they can play their instrument well and play for people wherever they go, into an orchestra or whatever. They can give back to their community their whole lives.”

The Hoveskelands are prime examples of how school music programs birth living, breathing professional musicians, Spencer said from his home in Tukwila, Wash. “We come from a small town and we are a product of the public school system … nothing we’ve experienced (as adults) we didn’t experience in the high school.”

The couple, now 41, began music careers at age 10 in Port Angeles, Wash., school orchestras, he said. They came into existence as a performing couple in 1992 (not counting their 1989 prom date) when presented in concert by the Ladies Music Club of Bellingham, Wash., where one organizer dubbed them with the name they became renowned by.

Each has done other jobs as an adult — Spencer’s resume includes working in a beauty supply store, he said. “My favorite thing was to run my fingers through the women’s hair. Sure, I was newly married, but I enjoyed the attention.”

There was little that could have prepared him, however, for seeing men come into the shop in the morning to use the free makeup samples to cover their blemishes, Spencer conceded with a laugh. “I learned a lot about humans.”

That’s the thing about growing crops of fresh musicians, Spencer believes — they go into their adult lives better able to approach anything.

“You are raising a generation of people who know how to get things done, whether you’re in the mood, whether or not you’re fully prepared for it. Mentally they can handle the biggest workloads and that’s a skill.”

School districts can lose sight of the value of music programs, he pointed out.

“We are living proof it’s a worthy investment. Your music scholarship may be the next thing that gets your doctor his undergraduate degree,” he said.

This area is in a good position with the robust school bands, choirs and orchestras, Spencer added.

“We’ve learned from touring, there just aren’t a lot of Walla Wallas out there. It’s just a pearl, they are a musician-producing factory.”

The Hoveskelands are going to do their best to convince attendees at Sunday’s concert to see things their way through what they call “social chamber music.”

It means Traci and Spencer honor the traditions of the art form “without pretense,” Spencer explained. “I don’t have to be funny and the audience doesn’t have to react. Typically they do, but sometimes they don’t. They don’t know it’s OK to laugh because its ‘classical music.’ But you don’t have to chew on a lemon.

“There should be something for everybody. You’ll hear our balance, our skills, our pitch. At the same time we’re going to have some jokes.”

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