Teri Orr: The music of friendships
When you are invited by the pianist — specifically — to be part of maybe eight people to lay under the piano on the highly polished wooden (flatbed) stage which is towed to town by a truck … outside in a grain field on a perfect fall day … you are not certain if you might not be dreaming. You are in the middle of the middle of 400 protected acres in the-middle-of-nowhere Idaho on land that has a restored creek where trout swim into the Teton River. And the sky is impossibly blue and the clouds keep shape-shifting and so do you. A light breeze keeps it all moving and music surrounds you and the Tetons are the backdrop and there is a slight breeze and soft bird calls from those winged creatures whose names you can’t place because you are in a place so surreal.
In a Landscape is a project that best resembles a WPA project from the Depression where artists and musicians and actors spread out across the country to make certain average men and women had access to the arts.
I left Park City on Thursday morning and it was late summer. Green aspens and cottonwoods. Then I’m not sure what happened … I drove into Star Valley, Wyoming, and it was immediately fall with butterscotch and blood orange colored trees. I got to the ranch right at cocktail time and put my bag in the room assigned to me and met all new people — save the hostess and her beau. Learning names and telling stories and making meals and watching osprey in their giant nest on the tall tall pole and sitting under the willow trees. Then the next night a repeat —only this time slapping on a name tag and meeting a new group of folks who are major donors to the Teton Regional Land Trust. Then more kitchen time and wine and a living room preview by the pianist for the concert planned for the next day. Cranes arrived against the darkening sky with their prehistoric cries and impossibly large legs dangling down from the horizon.
There was a clear night with a quarter moon so bright and perfectly framed. The Big Dipper was so large and close to the ground somehow and kinda sideways — it took my breath away.
The restored Fox Creek is part of a 400-acre working ranch and was a 24-year project — started by Blaine (deceased) and Nancy Huntsman. Now about 200 acres are in the trust and 200 are shared by Nancy and all eight of Blaine’s children. The ranch house and guest house/bunk house were completely filled with guests along with a few B&Bs in two adjoining states. It was the final rodeo of the year in Jackson — just over the pass about 45 minutes away. And it was also the weekend of The Crane Festival.
Rock star environmentalists mixed easily with tech giants and literary people and arts people and a guy who made a mean pad Thai — in Idaho. On property were family and longtime friends who bonded with the new ones. The events featured more guests from more than one valley which make up the greater Teton Valley. The youngest group were post college-age humans, some who were working on doctorates and some on medical degrees. Some launching careers. The lawn — to the edge of the gentle-flowing stream — was filled by wicker chairs with deep cushions under the willow trees on the little dock. And down the road there were rolls and rolls of hay that had been baled into soft feminine circular forms instead of boxy bales.
Everyone looked sharp … but real. These folks were wearing cowboy boots that had seen the dust of life and working ranches. The day of the event was warm with a light slight breeze. The shirts folks wore were the stuff of real cowboys, sans the rhinestones. These weren’t all hat and no cattle people — they had the cattle or raised the grain for the cattle. They are environmentalists because all good ranchers are — they care about the sustainability of their livelihood.
And the tall man — who is an old soul and new to this mix was there with a steady hand for the lady of the hour. And I loved him for loving her so clearly and gently. There was both grace and inclusiveness to the entire weekend.
And those crazy prehistoric sandhill cranes flew overhead and onto the fields. They squawked/cried their arrivals and departures.
The In a Landscape folks supplied the high-tech wireless headphones that allowed you to wander in the fields during the classical performance. The concerts are subsidized so that in rural spaces — all who love music (or want to experience it) and unmatchable scenery — have access. This is from their site…
“Since 2016, IN A LANDSCAPE has presented 141 concerts in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, New York, and California. Guest artists have included poets, visual artists, dancers, and musicians playing everything from banjos to pianos.Folks travel from near and far. Local ranchers, loggers, and farmers gather with visiting city dwellers and tourists from beyond. 46% attend for FREE and for 28% of the audience, the IN A LANDSCAPE concert was their first experience with live classical music.”
Because my life is sometimes a series of strange interconnected encounters, a young woman saw my name tag Friday night and asked if by any chance I was from Park City, Utah. I said yes, and then she said “my grandmother was Frances Kennedy.” And then we both started crying. Fran was the most influential individual donor to the Park City Institute at its inception. She was the granddaughter of Arthur Judson who was the conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic and the creator of the Columbia Broadcasting System. First for radio and then for television. She was a tall, strong, Quaker woman who was both flinty and incredibly generous — depending upon the topic/cause/person. She made certain I learned the finer arts we should be presenting in addition to the popular ones. Each year she sent our entire (small) staff to New York City to help with a fundraiser she produced for the National Orchestral Society at the famed literary Lotos Club. And then she set us loose in The City armed with bus passes and Broadway tickets and entrance to The Met. Fran passed away 18 years ago — the very same week my youngest grandson was born. The services at the Friends Hall in Philadelphia were a step back in time. The lunch prior to the ceremony was held at her brother’s historic home and the casket was meant to reside with the family there. But the tiny historic home with the low doorframes and narrow hallways and small windows had no good way to get the casket inside. So the family took one of the windows out to accommodate the casket. Her granddaughter knew the stories. She had interned with us one early Sundance in the box office. Turns out she is now married to the son of The Tall Man — who is my good friend’s beau.
There are times when the universe just sets you spinning and last weekend was one of those. The women and their husbands who came up from Salt Lake City and in from Vashon Island and down from Portland made up a beautiful patchwork quilt of friends. And my sweet friend, Nancy, had conducted something beautiful — the music of interconnectedness. It happened on all the days — including the final Sunday in a park all its own…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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“The connected aspens are a good reminder of how things can be distinctly separate and independent above the ground but underneath — where they are rooted and where it matters — they are all interconnected,” writes Teri Orr.