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Grand Canyon Music Festival echoes into 27th season

The Grand Canyon Music Festival will celebrate its 27th season from Aug. 27 – Sept. 12, with weekend and mid-week concerts in Grand Canyon National Park. The festival will also conduct its education outreach programs, the Native American Composers Apprentice Project and School of Rock, to Grand Canyon School and Native American reservation schools.

The Grand Canyon Music Festival is an annual three-week series of concerts that emphasizes the broad diversity of chamber music, focuses on programming and presentation excellence, and celebrates the environment of the majestic World Heritage Site.

Musicians of national and international standing are drawn to the festival because of the high quality of musicianship, the sophistication of its leadership, and the inspiration of the canyon.

“The Grand Canyon Music festival was started 27 years ago by my husband and I as the result of a hike,” said Clare Hoffman, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director. “I had just graduated music school in New York and was starting out in the music business and I was kind of burnt out. I read a book by Willa Cather, ‘The Song of the Lark,’ a beautiful book about a young burnt out musician who goes to the canyons of the Southwest in order to reconnect with things and find out why she wanted to be a musician in the first place.

“I was so inspired by the book I told my husband that we were going to the canyons of northern Arizona and he thought I was crazy. Our trek was a six day in-and-out of the canyon, rim-to-rim-to-rim kind of thing. I packed my flute and he packed his harmonica. The first night we were on the Colorado River practicing. We didn’t know it at that time, but there was a ranger down there who could hear us, but he couldn’t tell where the music was coming from, because it echoed all through the canyon.

“The second night we hiked up to the canyon floor and pretty much did the same thing. That night the ranger found us and he invited us into the rangers’ hut that night to play a little concert for a retiring ranger, and we started talking. That was the first Grand Canyon Music Festival concert,” Hoffman, who is one of the featured players, recalled. “We thought it would be a wonderful place to have a music festival and here we are, 27 years later, still doing it.”

The first year of the concert series was funded by a benefit concert in New York, which provided just enough money for the musicians to fly out and do one performance, but Hoffman wanted to give something back to the community. “With our second season we started doing outreach to the schools in the area, and of course the schools in the area are the schools on the Navajo Nation, east of Grand Canyon National Park. The first year we did some concerts in Tuba City for some students there, and then every year we did something, and they became more involved.

“In 2000, we commissioned Brent Michael Davids (Mohican) to write a piece for the festival. Brent had just finished a composer in residency program to work with students to compose string quartets and he said that he always wanted to do something like that with Native kids. We had all been wanting to do more with the Native children, because we just kind of came and did a hit and run. Brent was there at the same time we wanted to get more involved, so our first season of the Native American Composers Apprentice Project was 2001 with Brent and a couple of schools we had been working with, Tuba City High School and Gray Hills Academy in Tuba City, and Monument Valley High School in Kayenta.”

Davids could not continue the program after 2002, so the festival brought in David Mallamud in 2003, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Chickasaw, from 2004 – 2005, and Raven Chacon, Navajo, from 2004 on.

“It wasn’t until 2004 that a new music ensemble, ETHEL, a string quartet, joined us,” Hoffman said. “Between the efforts of them and Raven, things have taken off in a wonderful way. This year, ETHEL has a project called ‘Truck Stop,’ where they go around to truck stops to see what kind of music people are making in that particular town. They’ve been connecting with people all over the country. Robert Maribel will be joining them on stage and Jeff Peterson, who is a Hawaiian slack key guitar master.”

For more information on both the programs and for tickets, visit GrandCanyonMusicFest.org.