When he was growing up, his family used to take road trips to the various national parks in Utah.
"I remember one trip to Capital Reef after we traversed back and forth on some switchbacks to get to the top of one of the gorgeous formations," Hirst told The Park Record. "I remember standing and wishing I had a concert grand piano there so I could sit and play. I love the beauty and the inspiration I feel when I'm in the natural world."
Hirst's dream has become a reality for his students, thanks to a new collaboration between USU's music department at Caine College of the Arts and the Swaner EcoCenter.
Earlier this year, the music department presented a guitar performance inside the EcoCenter, and on Sunday, Nov. 4, a concert will feature USU's piano students.
The free concert, titled "Beauty Explored in Nature and Music," will begin at 3:30 p.m.
"We're excited for the opportunity to bring the music making that we do into another part of our state for a different audience," Hirst said. "I'm excited to be bringing music to the Swaner, because I'm an avid lover of nature and the outdoors, and I couldn't imagine anything else I'd rather do.
"I mean, how can you look out to the preserve and the wetlands and not notice just how gorgeous they are," he said.
The concert is scheduled in the afternoon to enhance the visual beauty of the preserve, Hirst explained.
"The goal was to get the sunlight just perfect," he said with a laugh.
Although Hirst had a hand in programming the production, he was actually in charge of coordinating the production on behalf of the music department.
"The final schedule of the program isn't entirely set, because we're in the process of hearing various student play and deciding which works would fit best in the setting," he said.
To do so, Hirst came up with three specific goals when choosing the music.
"The first was to find anything that had a direct connection to nature, especially to water, since there is a wetlands preserve up there," he said.
That's why he selected "Ondine" from Maurice Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit."
"That piece is about a water nymph who lures people into her kingdom at the bottom of a lake," Hirst said. "During the performance, we may feel, ourselves, seduced by the setting and the music."
The second criterion was to find works where the composer was influenced by nature as part of the compositional process, he said.
"(The compositions) are very different, but are beautiful in their own way," he said.
Lastly, Hirst wanted to select a diversity of works because of the vast musical heritage he could draw from in the composition repertoire.
"I think it's different to hear Bach on the piano, because that wasn't the instrument he composed for, and realize the music was his way of expressing his appreciation of beauty in the world," Hirst said. "I thought it may be interesting to compare what Bach wrote with something that Chopin wrote."
Hirst said programming the selections was one of the more enjoyable projects he's done in the 20 years he has been at USU.
"I like that this encourages our students to play outside of their comfort zones," he said. "They aren't just giving another recital on campus for their friends. Instead, they are put in a setting where they may feel a little pushed.
"I like that it also challenges them to think about why they are artists and why they are performing the works they have chosen," Hirst said. "It also will make them think about why they are performing at the EcoCenter, rather than the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, which is another beautiful setting in a different way. So, you see, there are a lot of neat connections."
The biggest concern for Hirst was finding music that fit an intimate space like the Swaner EcoCenter.
"First off, the venue wasn't designed as a performance space, and since it's such a unique place, we had to think about how we could create a good experience for the audience," he said. "Still, knowing what we have already, I know it is going to be a great experience for the audience."
The piano recitals aren't the last performances that are planned at the Swaner.
"Next spring, I understand, our resident string quartet, the Fry String Quartet, will present another concert at the EcoCenter as well," Hirst said. "I am looking forward to what we can do."
The Utah State University Piano Program presents "Beauty Explored in Nature and Music" with past, present and future piano students on Sunday, Nov. 4, at 3:30 p.m. The event will feature the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, Joseph-Maurice Ravel and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The concert is free and open to the public. Due to limited seating, early arrival is suggested. For more information call (435) 649-1767 x 0 or email firstname.lastname@example.org