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Enjoy Magazine

The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music

05/27/2014 12:00AM ● By Piper McDaniel
By: Piper Mcdaniel

Like many great things, The Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival started with a simple idea. Ellen McGehee, an accomplished violinist living in the remote mountains of Hyampom, hosted her musical cohort Ian Scarfe. He was enjoying the outdoors and work on McGehee’s farm, and she welcomed the chance to play music in the beauty of Trinity County. The inspiration started there.

“The original idea was to have some friends come up and relax and play music and treat the community to a concert or two and take it from there,” says McGehee.

Four years later, the Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival is thriving, providing a program that hosts professional musicians and presents an annual series of free concerts throughout Trinity County. The Chamber Music Festival has widened its scope to include shows in other regions of the state and country, and also hosts professional musical ensembles in sponsored residencies during the winter, offering a musical retreat in the mountains that includes a program of educational outreach and community performances.

“The community has been tremendous and without them it wouldn’t have taken off the way it has,” says Scarfe. “There have been so many gestures of support.”

The Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival has a symbiotic link to the community: Its musicians have the opportunity to perform music within the spectacular beauty and uniqueness of Trinity County, and Trinity County gets the cultural experience of professional caliber musicians performing for free.

“It’s a benefit to have classical music in Trinity County,” McGehee enthuses. “There’s a lot of real appreciators there, and its really rewarding to perform music for them. The musicians are impressed with the quality of the audience and their level of engagement.”

The Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival focuses much of its efforts on providing musical access to local children, offering free shows at multiple schools, and also partnering with local organizations and businesses to provide music programs for children.

“For a lot of schools, there isn’t a lot of money left for music,” says McGehee, “and so schools here don’t have the strongest music programs and there’s a lack of resources. So it’s great to expose kids to music and show them music is a possibility. Some of them might not even realize that’s an option.

“Music is one of those creative, artistic things important to a well-rounded education,” explains Scarfe, “especifically when kids have an opportunity to interact and hear professionals play. They get the chance to see that real, normal people can attain this kind of career and mastery of music, and they also get exposure to world class music and musicians. It’s worth an enormous amount to a child’s education.”

The Chamber Music Festival also provides a chance for adults to enjoy music. The combination of rural audience and venue with professional classical musicians makes for an interesting cultural blend. The musicians host their performances in an informal atmosphere, which lends to the unusual mix of culture already happening.

“I think it helps to demystify classical music,” Scarfe says. “I think classical music is just music and music is great. Classical music has a very formal reputation — people associate it with tuxedos, and pomp and circumstance, but the reality is that it is just people playing music.”

The end result is a more intimate performance where musicians talk to the audience directly about the music they’re listening to, helping to provide context and musical history. “We focus on chamber music,” explains Scarfe, “because it was written for a more intimate setting and smaller venues. Our concerts give audiences the opportunity to see us up close and ask questions and get to know us.”