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July 18th, 2019
Picture this, a 990 pound Steinway arises as if by magic from a trailer set against the landscape of the James Cant Ranch at John Day Fossil Bed that takes your breath away. This small crew of four young men have been transporting a glossy black full sized Steinway piano across the state of Oregon, bringing live classical music to the most unique of places, the outdoors.
Hunter Noack began ‘In a Landscape’ by touring throughout Oregon to well-known parks such as Smith Rock, Crater Lake and even hidden gems in Oregon such as the James Cant Ranch. In it’s second year, Hunter and his crew made up of an assistant, a sound technician, and piano tuner all travel together in a pickup truck, as soon as their feet hit the ground at the ranch they are running cables for the sound tent, unloading their gear, putting legs on the piano and tuning the piano all before the sold-out evening performance.
Hunter has toured worldwide as a renowned pianist performing classical music but the sites of Oregon remain close to his heart. The WPA inspired this project as did his deep love for nature. Hunter wanted people to experience classical music while exploring these beautiful scenic parks, so he and his team crafted wireless headphones enabling the 300 attendees to wander about nature as the sound of a live piano performance echoed in their ears. This once-in-a-lifetime experience merges the art of music and the art of nature into a beautiful moment. For those lucky enough to get a ticket it is such a treat. Hunter’s audience also consists of roughly 57% donated ticket holders, most of which includes locals to the area of the park, encouraging the local population to see their well-loved parks in a completely new way - to the tune of classical music.
Located near Dayville and Mitchell, Oregon is this historic Cant Ranch which sets the backdrop for today’s musical performance. Just under two hours from Redmond settled in the heart of Eastern Oregon among expansive green pastures dotted by grazing cattle, the twists and turns of the windy roads give way to the stunning James Cant Ranch at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The ranch itself is located near the base of the fantastic and aptly named ‘Sheep Rock.’ The historic Cant Ranch once was used as a sheep ranch, the ranch house was built in 1917 by the Cant family and it now being used as the park headquarters and museum telling the story of this special place. Just behind the house is a pristine historic orchard of peach, apricot, apple and other fruit trees that still bear ripe fruit for visitors and resident Elk and deer to snack on. Next to the orchard is a well maintained gravel trail leading you from the ranch, barn, and even old farming equipment on a .5 mile trail down to the base of the John Day River with Sheep Rock just on the other side of the water.
Once the concert has begun, people of all types trickle in; families with children, older couples, people with their dogs all laying down blankets, folding chairs, and opening up their picnic baskets to snack away on the grassy field. Hunter’s team of helpers begin to check in people and hand out large wireless headphones to each attendee, instructing them how to use the headsets. The event opens with Hunter speaking about the impact of this project, and is followed up by Park Ranger and superintendent of the John Day National Monument, Patrick Gamman. Patrick speaks on why events like these are so important for the public and the park itself. Guitarist, Corinne Sharlet opens up the stage with her folksy voice as she plays the guitar almost to the sway of the trees and whisper of the wind. After her performance, Hunter takes to the piano, mentioning he does a wide variety of musical pieces, from Turkish inspired sonatas to the best of the European Tradition. As the music begins on the stage, you can easily hear the swell of sound also emanating from fellow attendees headphones. People are laying down on blankets gazing at the clouds, some are quietly chatting to one another as they get situated in their seat, others are slowly walking the trail leading them to the John Day river and all of the attendees at one point or another seem to close their eyes to bask in the sounds of the piano as the breeze blows and sun shines, the look of serenity on each of their faces.
To experience hearing and seeing a Steinway piano completely out of its typical backdrop of a concert hall and instead set right in the middle of nature and to feel the breeze, to see the light change and sky grow dark at John Day National Monument, to allow all of your senses to awaken it is pure magic. If you have a chance to attend one of the ‘In a Landscape’ performances, you’re in for the treat of a lifetime!